Defense shines for Wittenberg in season-opening loss on road

Tigers start NCAC play in Week 2 at Hiram

For the first time in eight years, the Wittenberg Tigers will play their second game one week after their first. The last seven seasons, Wittenberg has had its off week after the opener and then played nine straight North Coast Athletic Conference games. This season, it plays four games before taking off Oct. 5.

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The Tigers play at Hiram, which lost 41-0 at home to Marietta last weekend, at 1 p.m. Saturday.

“We tried to shuffle the schedule around and made some calls,” Wittenberg coach Joe Fincham said Wednesday after practice. “Hiram was interested. They didn’t want to be open in week two either. Paint it however you want. You just feel like you go straight back into camp. For us right now, as young as we are, there would be some benefits to going back into camp, but we felt like it would be in our best interest to continue to play and get our break later.”

Wittenberg opened the season with a 16-8 loss at Washington & Jefferson in Washington, Pa. The Presidents climbed from No. 21 to No. 15 in the poll after the victory, while Wittenberg dropped from No. 18 to No. 25.

Wittenberg outgained Washington & Jefferson 256-120 but surrendered a touchdown on a short field after a turnover in the first quarter, gave up a field goal on a short field after a special teams mistake in the fourth quarter and then saw the Presidents score a defensive touchdown on a fumble return with 9:53 to play.

“When you look at it, it’s easy to focus on the things we did poorly, but there’s a ton of positives,” Fincham said. “The defense played lights out. I can’t remember us playing that well against a quality opponent in quite a well. We punted the ball really well. We had a new long snapper and new punter, and I thought our coverage teams did pretty well. For as bad as things were at times, we still had the ball at the end of the game with a chance to tie it. Obviously, there are no moral victories at Wittenberg, but to go through all the bad we went through and still have a chance to win on the road against a really good team, I think it says a lot about our club.”

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Fincham praised the play of linebacker Jonthan Seay and defensive tackle Trevor Good, who he said played his best half of football before suffering a sprained ankle. He said the secondary played well, too.

“You’re talking about a returning all-league quarterback (Jacob Adams) and All-American receiver (Andrew Wolf),” Fincham said, “and they threw it for less than 100 yards, and the All-American receiver had three catches for no yards.”

The offense was another story. Wittenberg played without two offensive linemen who would have started. Nick Treboni-Hogan will miss the season with a non-football injury, while Bryson Owens could return this week or next.

Nagging injures to the wide receiver corps in the preseason also hurt. Fincham said they spent very little time with quarterback Blake King, who was making his first start.

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“There were issues to spread everywhere,” Fincham said.

King completed 11 of 20 passes for 122 yards with one touchdown. Looking for a spark, the coaches replaced King with Bobby Froehlich, last year’s starter, for the last two series. Froehlich had a knee issue in the preseason and had practiced twice in the previous two weeks.

Froehlich threw a 17-yard pass for a first down on his first series, but Wittenberg punted after a 15-yard personal foul stalled the drive. On the last series, which started at the Washington & Jefferson 23-yard line after a 20-yard punt by the Presidents, Froehlich threw an interception on the first play.

“We rolled the dice and threw him in there,” Fincham said, “and it just didn’t happen.”

Looking at the quarterback situation moving into Week 2, Fincham said, “I’m not 100 percent sure who were going to start, but Bobby’s had a good week of practice, so we’ll see.”

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