Wittenberg’s offense padded its stats in a 68-66 four-overtime victory at Denison last Saturday. The defense, on the other hand, plummeted in the national rankings.
Wittenberg ranked 26th in the nation in total defense (250.1 yards per game) through three games. It fell to 95th (336.3) this week. Wittenberg allowed more points in one game than it allowed in the entire 2009 regular-season when it led the nation in scoring defense (5.3 points per game).
Coach Joe Fincham spread the blame for the defense’s performance.
“You’ve got to watch the film, learn from some of the mistakes they made, but it wasn’t all on the defense,” Fincham said. “In the second half, we had a bunch of three-and-outs on offense, too. It was a collective effort, trust me.”
Denison quarterback Canaan Gebele rallied his team from a 35-10 halftime deficit, tying the score at 38-38 in the final minute to send the game to overtime.
In overtime, Denison scored four touchdowns while needing to convert only one third down. Wittenberg matched Denison score for score but twice had to convert on fourth down.
“They were two sides to it,” Fincham said. “Offensively, we were just trying to regroup and get our rhythm back because we quickly went out of rhythm in the second half. Defensively, they just got stuck on the field particularly from the end of the third all the way to the end of the fourth. At the end, they were so gassed we couldn’t stop dive plays.”
The Tigers rotated players on defense to limit the fatigue. By the end, nothing helped.
“(Coaches) Dan Smith and Brannon Dunn do an awesome job keeping fresh bodies on the field,” Fincham said. “In a typical game, we play about 10 defensive linemen, and down the stretch, I think we played eight, but they were just dead on their feet with how many snaps they took.”
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Wittenberg (4-0, 3-0) puts its 18-game regular-season winning streak on the line at 3 p.m. Saturday against Hiram (1-3, 0-3) at Edwards-Maurer Field. Hiram beat winless Earlham 47-13 for its only victory on Sept. 8.
Wittenberg then plays a stretch of three straight games against teams with winning records in the North Coast Athletic Conference: at Allegheny (3-2, 3-1); home vs. DePauw (2-2, 2-1); and home vs. Wabash (4-0, 3-0).
Notes: Wittenberg quarterback Jake Kennedy won the NCAC Offensive Player of the Week award Monday. He threw seven touchdown passes against Denison. He tied the single-game NCAC record set by Earlham’s Justin Rummell twice in the early 2000s. He completed 31 of 43 passes for 421 yards, also setting a school record for passing yards. … The Tigers dropped from No. 14 to No. 16 in the D3Football.com poll and from No. 11 to No. 12 in the American Football Coaches Association poll.