Desi Kirkman must have heard the congratulations a dozen different ways by the time he walked from the frozen tundra of Edwards-Maurer Field to the warmth of the HPER Center.
“Oh my goodness!”
“Decent day, Desi,” joked one Wittenberg fan with intentional understatement.
The most lopsided playoff victory in Wittenberg history, 59-17 over postseason rookie Lebanon Valley College on Saturday, featured one of the great individual performances in school history.
Kirkman, a senior wide receiver from Lima Central Catholic, caught four touchdown passes and set a school record by returning a punt 90 yards for a touchdown, leading the No. 12 Tigers to their 10th straight win and a date with the New York Yankees of Division III football, Mount Union, in Alliance at noon next Saturday.
If not for a drop in the end zone at the end of the first half, Kirkman would have tied Josh McKee’s school record of five touchdown receptions.
“Coach Mitch is not going to let me live that one down,” Kirkman said. “That hurts.”
Offensive coordinator Andy Mitchel told Kirkman earlier in the week Lebanon Valley plays a cover-two defense, leaving the middle of the field open. Kirkman took advantage with 188 yards on five receptions.
“He told me I had to make some plays,” Kirkman said. “The line blocked very good. Reedo put the ball where it needs to be. I just had to make my plays. It was just my day today.”
Senior quarterback Reed Florence completed 15 of 21 passes for 344 yards and tied his own school record, set earlier this season, with six touchdown passes. He also broke the North Coast Athletic Conference single-season mark for touchdown passes, moving past Wabash’s Jake Knott (2002) with his 36th.
Florence completed his first seven passes. He had three touchdown passes before he threw an incompletion. With Florence, Kirkman said, “not too many balls are going to be out of reach.”
Florence threw the credit right back to Kirkman. At least two of the touchdowns featured plays worthy of SportsCenter, even if they weren’t as spectacular as the flip touchdown that did land Kirkman on SportsCenter last season.
“We knew Desi was a big threat all season,” Florence said. “He proved it today. It shows how balanced we are offensively. We can run and pass, and you can’t just key on one receiver, which is huge for us.”
The Flying Dutchmen, who brought an impressive contingent of fans from 437 miles away in Annville, Pa., had no chance after the opening minutes. They’re a running team, and they were forced to pass as they fell behind 28-3 two minutes into the second quarter.
Now the Tigers (10-1) will have Thanksgiving week to prepare for the biggest game for the program in 12 years. They haven’t played the Purple Raiders, the defending and 11-time national champions, since 2001 when they lost in the playoffs in Alliance for the third time in four years.
“When you get in, you just hope you can continue to advance,” Wittenberg coach Joe Fincham said. “Whether it’s Alliance or Whitewater or Hobart or Hardin-Simmons, you just hope you keep going. They’re a really good football team obviously. Hopefully, we’ll go up and play like we’re a good team, too.”