Denison knocks Wittenberg out of first place in NCAC

Tigers need one win in last three games to avoid first four-loss season since 2008

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

Wittenberg had the right attitude before the game Saturday as it waited in the inflatable helmet in the south end zone at Edwards-Maurer Field.

“This is why we worked so hard in the spring,” one player shouted to the rest of his teammates. “This is why we worked so hard in the summer.”

The Tigers ran onto the field with the same energy behind those words. It just didn’t translate to a winning performance.

Wittenberg’s North Coast Athletic Conference championship and NCAA Division III playoff dreams died — in all likelihood — with a 28-10 loss to Denison on Saturday at Edwards-Maurer Field.

“We just did not play our best football — nothing close to what we’re capable of,” Wittenberg coach Jim Collins said, “and give Dennison credit. They made the plays they had to make to win the game, and we didn’t make those plays. It’s just disappointing because I thought we had a good week of practice and we were prepared, but we just didn’t play well enough.”

Wittenberg (4-3, 4-2), which began the day with a half-game lead in the NCAC, lost to Denison (6-2, 4-2) for the third straight season and fourth time in the last six matchups.

In the first three quarters, Wittenberg scored only on a 24-yard field goal by Brandon Goodwin and came up empty twice in the red zone.

Wittenberg faced 2nd-and-goal at the Denison 9-yard line in the first quarter when Collin Brown was intercepted at the Denison 5. On 4th-and-3 from the Denison 8 in the third quarter, Brown threw an incompletion in the end zone.

“You look back at those,” Collins said, “and you think about what could have happened. Obviously, there are a lot of ifs, but those those two red-zone opportunities were big. And in the second half, we just were out of sync. At the point where we fell behind, we couldn’t rely on what we do best, which is run the ball and mix in the play action.”

Denison took a 7-0 lead on its second drive when Drew Dawkins threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Josh Aiello. After taking a 7-3 lead into halftime, Denison built a 14-3 advantage when Dawkins ran 80 yards for a touchdown on Denison’s first play of the second half.

Dawkins completed 13 of 15 passes for 131 yards and ran for 91 yards on 11 carries.

“Dawkins is a great athlete,” Collins said, “and if you turn him loose, he’s going to make you pay. That was a great play. That was a momentum killer because we scored three at the end of the first half and were just feeling, ‘Hey, OK, let’s regroup and play the second half. We’re only down 7-3.’”

Denison extended its lead to 21-3 on a 23-yard touchdown pass from Dawkins to Billy Guzzo with 10:22 left in the fourth quarter.

Wittenberg’s only touchdown came with 4:25 left in the game. Brown threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Drew Sterett. Brown completed 21 of 37 passes for 218 yards. Garrett Gross ran 14 times for 83 yards.

Wittenberg’s NCAC hopes are slim, but it has three games remaining against Wooster, Ohio Wesleyan and Hilbert as it tries to avoid the program’s first four-loss season since 2008 (6-4).

Asked what he told his team after the game, Collins said, “You don’t quit. You just show up tomorrow, and you work the same way you did after a big win, and you keep working and you prepare and you hang together and you look to see what you can do better. You take a look at where we made our mistakes and what corrections we need to make, and we move forward.”

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