Fincham hopes Wittenberg shows growth from first to second game

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Highlights: Wittenberg vs. SUNY Cortland on Sept. 4, 2021

Tigers play Hiram two weeks after losing to SUNY Cortland

In eight of the last nine seasons — 2019 being the exception — the Wittenberg Tigers have played one non-conference football game on the opening weekend of the season, taken a week off and then played nine straight North Coast Athletic Conference games.

It’s never fun for the team to sit on an opening loss for two weeks, and that was the case in 2019 when Wittenberg lost 16-8 at Washington & Jefferson and again this season. Wittenberg lost 38-16 at home to SUNY Cortland on Sept. 4 and had extra time to digest the result before preparing for the second game of the season at 4:30 p.m. Saturday against Hiram (1-1) at Edwards-Maurer Field.

“The good thing is a team grows more between game one and game two than any other time during their season,” Wittenberg coach Joe Fincham said, “and we had two weeks to grow. So hopefully we’ll look like a different football team than what we did last time.”

Cortland looked every bit as good in its second game, routing the College of New Jersey 49-6 last weekend, and received votes in the D3Football.com top-25 poll this week. Cortland had twice as many first downs (24-12) as Wittenberg and held the ball for almost twice as long (39:28 to 20:32).

“The thing that was most apparent (about Cortland) during the game,” Fincham said, “was just the size, physicality and maturity of their guys in the box and their second-level linebackers and running backs. In the overall grand scheme of things, I thought that there would be a premium on experienced players coming back from a year where you didn’t play. That is more exacerbated now than what I even thought it was going to be before. When you look at guys who had played in games compared to the guys who hadn’t played in games, there was a dramatic difference in how they played and their productivity throughout the ballgame.”

Explore» PHOTOS: Wittenberg vs. Cortland

In his first start, Wittenberg sophomore quarterback Collin Brown completed 9 of 18 passes for 220 yards and two touchdowns. More than half of the passing yards (133) came on two touchdown passes to Jake Saus and Sam Kayser.

Brown also threw a pass that was ruled a backwards pass on the first play of the game. Cortland recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchdown. In the second half, Brown threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown.

“He’s got a great skill package,” Fincham said. “He’s very accurate. He’s bright. He one of those rare individuals that when the bombs are going off around him he really doesn’t change the pace of his play. Most quarterbacks, when the game starts moving fast and they’re getting beat around., they start hurrying and the ball starts sailing. He’s going to be a very good player. Like all young players, he needs to play. He needs experience. That’s going to come in time.”

Brown left the game after a hard hit late in the third quarter. Fincham described his status Wednesday as day to day. Wittenberg did not score, except on a safety, after Brown left the game.

Senior Bobby Froehlich, who was the starter in 2019, the last time Wittenberg played a season, took over when Brown was hurt and completed 6 of 9 passes for 65 yards.

While Wittenberg’s passing game generated the two long touchdowns and 279 yards, its running game was limited to minus two yards on 20 carries.

“I’d hate to judge anybody on on one game,” Fincham said. “Obviously, we were very disappointed that we didn’t have more production. If you’re not winning the line of scrimmage, it’s hard to run the ball and protect your quarterback. There were times in the game that we got overwhelmed. We’ll continue to work, and I know those guys are going to improve and I know they’re going to settle down and play better football as the season goes on.”

Wittenberg has never lost to Hiram. It is 19-0 against the Terriers in NCAC play, and the closest of those games was a 27-10 score in 2015.

Hiram finished 0-10 in 2019 but won its 2021 opener, 41-21 against Bethany, before losing 42-14 at home to Wabash last week. Fincham said Hiram is an improved team.

“Hiram always shows up with with athleticism,” Fincham said. “It’s important that you play well against them early, and we need to play well early just to get some confidence. Wabash got them on their heels in the second quarter and started playing fast, and it snowballed on them in a hurry. Wabash was the better team, but if you take away the second quarter, it’s a little different type of a football game.”