Playoff preview: Wittenberg hosts Frostburg State in first round

11:06 a.m. Friday, Nov. 17, 2017 Sports
Wittenberg players pose for a photo after clinching the outright North Coast Athletic Conference championship with a victory over Wooster on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017, at Edwards-Maurer Field in Springfield. Contributed photo

Whether they know it or not, the Wittenberg Tigers will play for the life of one of the most distinctive parts of Edwards-Maurer Field when they face Frostburg State in the first round of the playoffs at noon Saturday.

Not long after Wittenberg’s season ends, workers will tear down the press box overlooking the stadium. It’s part of the renovation project transforming Wittenberg’s athletic facility.

“That may be incentive to tank a game to see that thing come down,” Wittenberg coach Joe Fincham joked.

In the next breath, Fincham said, “For whatever it’s worth, it’s maybe not aesthetically pleasing, but it’s kind of a tradition at Witt. I’ll be said to see it go.”

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No. 12 Wittenberg (10-0) could postpone the press box’s demise for quite a while, depending on how it does in the playoffs. If it beats Frostburg State, it would play another home game in the second round against No. 14 Washington & Jefferson (10-0) or No. 21 Johns Hopkins (9-1).

Frostburg is a tough first-round opponent, however. The Bobcats lost 27-24 to No. 13 Wesley in the regular season. They were the runner-up in the New Jersey Athletic Conference behind Wesley. This is Frostburg’s second trip to the playoffs and the first since 1993.

“They’re a really good football team, obviously,” Fincham said. “They come from a good league. The first thing that jumps out to you when you look at the paper stuff is they lost to Wesley in overtime, and we all know Wesley is a bunch of card-carrying killers.”

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This will be a matchup of top-25 defenses. Wittenberg ranks 23rd (13.3 points per game). Frostburg is tied for 15th (12.2). Frostburg is ninth in total defense (233.5). Wittenberg is 50th (304.0).

Junior quarterback Connor Cox leads the offense with 22 touchdown passes. The Bobcats led their conference in scoring (35.0 points per game). Wide receiver Sergio Andino has 10 touchdown catches. Jamaal Morant is the top runner with 703 yards and seven touchdowns.

“Offensively, they’re a pretty balanced group,” Fincham said. “They’re committed to running the ball. They play a number of backs who aren’t much different than Wabash’s. They’re big and physical up front. They’re committed to running the ball between the tackles.”

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For Fincham, the keys to victory are not turning the ball over and not giving up big plays. Wittenberg ranks tied for fifth in the country in turnover margin (plus 1.40 per game). Tackling well will also be important.

“I don’t think we tackled well this past week,” Fincham said. “I think it will be important to remain balanced and have success in the red zone on both sides of the ball. The way they play defense, I would assume it’ll be a lower-scoring game than what some people have grown accustomed to in the playoffs.”

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