College Football: Frostburg State chills Wittenberg’s playoff hopes

Wittenberg’s Sam Kayser returns a kickoff Saturday in the Tigers’ first round NCAA Dividion III playoff game against Frostburg State. BRETT TURNER / CONTRIBUTED

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Wittenberg’s Sam Kayser returns a kickoff Saturday in the Tigers’ first round NCAA Dividion III playoff game against Frostburg State. BRETT TURNER / CONTRIBUTED

A touch of Frostburg State put Wittenberg’s previously unbeaten season on ice Saturday in the opening round of the NCAA Division III football playoffs.

The No. 15 Bobcats (10-1) put the No. 12 Tigers in a 21-0 hole early in the second half at Edwards-Maurer Field and thwarted several scoring threats en route to a 35-7 victory in just their second playoff appearance in school history.

Wittenberg ends 2017 at 10-1.

Both came in with top-25 defenses, Wittenberg 23rd and Frostburg tied for 15th.

Tigers coach Joe Fincham said the team put together a good plan going in but didn’t execute and things got lopsided.

“Hats off to Frostburg State,” Fincham said. “When you get to the end it’s life and death. They made the plays at critical times and the turnovers were tough.”

Jamaal Morant rolled up 168 yards rushing with two touchdowns, while Gavin Lavat ran for 96 and a score as Frostburg State outrushed Wittenberg 385-45, along with a 501-236 total offense edge.

Following a mostly uneventful first quarter, Frostburg State’s Sergio Andino returned a punt 42 yards to Wittenberg’s 26, capped by Lavat’s one-yard rushing score.

Following another Tiger drive stifled after several incomplete passes, the Bobcats ate up 7:06 off the clock resulting in a 17-yard touchdown pass from Connor Cox to Sandino with 35 seconds left in the half.

On the first play from scrimmage to start the second half, Frostburg State’s Aaron Gibson picked off Tiger quarterback Jake Kennedy, with Morant pounding it in to put the Bobcats up 21-0.

While the deficit could’ve broken some teams, Fincham credited his squad’s grit.

“Our guys kept playing hard, they’ve played hard all year and fought to the end,” he said.

Wittenberg put together a nine-play, 73-yard drive the next series, with the big play being Kenton Ridge product Jeff Tiffner’s pass to Kennedy on third-and-nine to set up first and goal at the five.

Sophomore Ryan Fallon completed a two-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Liam Duncan two plays later to cut the deficit to 21-7.

Wittenberg’s comeback attempt got another boost when linebacker Terrance Crowe, a Springfield High graduate, forced a fumble recovered by Keenan Wilson at Wittenberg’s 47.

Crowe had 8.5 tackles to lead Wittenberg on the day, and Michael Ford and Keenan Wilson added 7 apiece.

Prior to the game, Fincham said not giving up the ball and big plays were keys to victory. But it was Frostburg State that responded with both.

After a 23-yard rush by Sam Kayser and 16-yard pass from Kennedy to Tiffner put Wittenberg into the Bobcats’ red zone, Dante Chinnery intercepted Cox’s pass at the one-yard line.

Frostburg State ran the clock out on the quarter and would later recover another Wittenberg fumble, but the Tigers would return the favor two plays later.

The big play for Frostburg State came on a fake punt that saw Chinnery take the ball 93 yards for the score and the dagger in any comeback hopes.

Bobcats coach DeLane Fitzgerald said they tried the same play two weeks ago and it was stuffed immediately, but worked this week when it counted.

The team turned to Morant, who kept the ball on the ground, eating time and adding a last rushing touchdown.

Frostburg State moves on to play Washington & Jefferson in the second round.

“It’s hard when you lose,” said Fincham. “I’m pleased with our work ethic. I’ve enjoyed coaching this team and we’ve got a lot of talented guys coming back.”

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