Division III playoffs: Wittenberg outlasts Thomas More in 4 OTs

Wittenberg senior kicker Will Gingery has many milestones in his career.

The preseason All-American has done it all, it seems — except hit a game-winner.

On a snowy, windy Saturday afternoon at BB&T Field, Gingery was able to check that off his list after nailing a 37-yard field goal in the fourth overtime to give Wittenberg a 33-30 win over Thomas More in the first round of the NCAA Division III playoffs.

“Fourth overtime, playoff game, senior year,” Gingery said smiling. “Yeah, it can’t get any better than that.”

Gingery’s heroics touched off a wild celebration after the teams swapped leads twice in the final quarter and went through four overtimes that turned into a field-goal competition.

“I kind of blacked out,” Gingery said of the moments following the kick. “I knew I’d get another chance and they tried to ice me, which didn’t mean anything because I’ve been iced since high school and it hasn’t worked. But it definitely felt really good to see it go through.”

Wittenberg seemed to be making quick work of the overtime sessions as Jake Kennedy hit DeShawn Sarley for a 24-yard gain on the first play of the first session to set the Tigers up at the 1. However, Wittenberg was called for pass interference on second down and Gingery was called on to hit a 36-yarder to give the Tigers a 27-24 lead.

Wittenberg’s defense dug in during the four overtimes, allowing Thomas More 13 yards. Keenan Wilson blocked a 34-yard field-goal attempt on the Saints’ second possession and held the Saints to two yards before they missed a 40-yarder in the final OT to set up Gingery’s winner.

“That was a heckuva football game,” Wittenberg coach Joe Fincham said after the Tigers improved to 10-1 and moved on to a second-round date with Wisconsin-Whitewater. “Nobody deserves to lose this game. We’ve been grinders all year. We aren’t the prettiest girl at the dance, but we have become accustomed to that style and we play hard.”

After the first OT, Wittenberg managed 19 yards in offense, and overcame Gingery getting a 37-yard attempt blocked in the second OT that would have ended the game.

“I just had to deal with what happened,” he said. “I went to the sideline and went back to the net and knew the defense would stop them and I’d have another chance.”

Wittenberg looked in control early.

The Tigers, after a slow start, put 17 points up in the second quarter with Kennedy scoring on runs of 3 and 5 yards for a 17-0 lead.

Thomas More, however, scored right before the half on a touchdown pass that was initially ruled incomplete then reversed to cut the deficit to 17-7 at the break.

“We gave them life there,” Fincham said. “We turned the ball over right before half or it could’ve been 17-0.

“We knew we were going to have to dig in and gut it out.”

Thomas More scored on its first two possessions of the second half to tie it 17-17 and took the lead, 24-17, with 6:24 remaining in regulation on 2-yard run by CT Turrant.

Kennedy led the Tigers right back, going 70 yards in 11 plays to tie the game at 24-24 when he hit Luke Landis on a 13-yard scoring strike.

“We’ve been in close games,” Kennedy said. “We knew what it’d take.”

Kennedy finished 18 of 37 for 237 yards and also led the Tigers with 56 yards on 18 carries.

Wittenberg will be on the road Saturday to play top-ranked Wisconsin-Whitewater, which opened the playoffs with a 45-27 win over Lakeland.

“I don’t have words for how it will be,” Wittenberg linebacker Jack Kayser said. “We are going to have to play them eventually, so we might as well play them now and knock them out.”

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