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Wittenberg will face playoff newcomer, Lebanon Valley, in first round

Joe Fincham and his coaching staff crammed into one office to watch the NCAA Division III playoff announcement at 6 p.m. Sunday on a computer. They knew they had made the field, so the moment lacked the suspense of the years when they earned at-large bids to the playoffs.

The only question was who they would play and where the game would be. The answers: Lebanon Valley College and Springfield. The 12th-ranked Tigers (9-1) will play their first home playoff game since 2009 at noon Saturday.

“We got a home game,” Fincham said. “That I am excited about.”

This is Wittenberg’s 16th playoff appearance. It’s 12-3 in the first round. It’s 7-0 in the first round in Springfield. It beat Mount St. Joseph and Trine in the first two rounds at home in 2009.

Older Tiger fans and former players will have a hard time not looking past the first-round game to a potential matchup with Mount Union in the second round. The top-ranked and defending national champion Purple Raiders (10-0) host Washington and Jefferson in the first round. The winner gets Wittenberg or Lebanon Valley.

Wittenberg and Mount Union met in the playoffs in 1998, 2000 and 2001. Mount Union won every time and then went on to win the national title in all three of those seasons. The teams have not played since.

Of course, there’s only one thing Fincham could say about that potential game.

“I’ll start worrying about the Purple Raiders next Saturday if we’re still alive,” he said.

Lebanon Valley (8-2) is making its first playoff appearance. The Flying Dutchmen won the Middle Atlantic Conference’s automatic bid by tiebreaker with a 7-2 league mark.

Lebanon’s only losses are to Albright, 45-20 in its regular-season finale, and 35-28 to Widener in its second game. Lebanon’s quarterback, Brian Murphy, has thrown for for 1,608 yards and 14 touchdowns.

The college is located in Annville, Pa., about 88 miles west of Philadelphia. It’s 438 miles from Springfield.

Wittenberg was the only North Coast Athletic Conference to make the field. Wabash (9-1) didn’t receive one of the eight at-large berths, its 35-17 loss to Wittenberg costing it a playoff berth.

“I think Wabash is certainly a deserving team,” Fincham said. “It’s unfortunate to lose one ballgame and not get in.”

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