SPRINGFIELD — Nineteen Wittenberg seniors, their smiles 100 yards wide, posed for a photograph in front of the victory bell Saturday at Edwards-Maurer Field. Except for the fifth-year seniors in the group, they had never heard the bell ring after a home victory against their fiercest rival, Wabash.
“Take a picture of the W,” one player shouted, as the seniors formed the letter on the helmet by touching their thumbs together and spreading their hands wide.
“My arms are getting tired,” another said.
After a 34-17 victory over the Little Giants, the ringing bell must have sounded extra sweet to the seventh-ranked Tigers. They clinched a share of the North Coast Athletic Conference championship with a road game at Wooster looming, moved one step closer to their second straight 10-0 regular season and beat Wabash two years in a row for the first time in nine years.
“Wabash always fights” is the Giants’ motto, and they made a game of it for a brief spell in the second half. For the most, though, Wittenberg (9-0, 5-0 NCAC) dominated, possessing the ball for almost 42 minutes and outgaining them 503-183. This was its most convincing victory over Wabash (7-2, 5-1 NCAC) since a 41-10 victory in 2000.
“For the seniors, it means a lot,” defensive end Eddie Vallery said. “We have a lot of respect for that team. Our freshman and sophomore years, we sat back and saw how good their tradition is. To beat them two years in a row is great.”
A junior quarterback led the way for Wittenberg. Ben Zoeller had arguably his best game of the season, completing 24 of 34 passes for 317 yards and touchdowns to Josh McKee, Brendon Cunningham and Anthony Kralich.
Most impressively, Zoeller overcame a devastating interception in the first quarter. With Wittenberg poised to take a 14-3 lead, Zoeller was picked off in the end zone by Jake Martin, who returned it 80 yards. Kralich, the intended receiver on the pass, chased Martin down to save the touchdown.
Wabash failed to convert the turnover into points, missing a 29-yard field goal. Zoeller then marched the Tigers right back down the field on a game-defining drive that lasted 7 minutes, 34 seconds. The Tigers converted on third-and-9, third-and-11 and fourth-and-1 during the drive and scored on a 2-yard touchdown catch by McKee.
The interception had been forgotten and overcome.
Said Zoeller, “Coach (Joe) Fincham just told me, ‘Don’t let that affect the way you’re playing. You’re playing great. Just keep throwing it around like you didn’t even throw that pass.’ ”
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Who: Wittenberg (9-0, 5-0 NCAC) at Wooster (5-4, 4-1)
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
Radio: WUSO-FM (89.1)