Wabash spoils Wittenberg’s home opener with strong fourth quarter

Collin Brown’s five touchdown passes not enough for Tigers in first NCAC loss

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

One loss rarely spells doom for teams in the North Coast Athletic Conference these days. No team has finished the league schedule without a defeat since Wittenberg in 2017.

Wabash knew that coming into a game at Wittenberg on Saturday and bounced back from its first NCAC loss to beat the Tigers 42-35 on homecoming at Edwards-Maurer Field. Now Wittenberg must take a similar attitude into its final five NCAC games.

The Tigers (2-2 overall) and Little Giants (2-2) are 2-1 in the NCAC and will end up tied for second after this weekend with Denison or DePauw, who played Saturday night in Granville. Wittenberg plays defending champion DePauw in Greencastle, Ind., next week.

“That’s what you’ve got to focus on,” said Wittenberg coach Jim Collins, who lost his first home as head coach at his alma mater. “You’ve got to focus on having that same intensity and same work ethic and the same type of preparation that we had this week, and then go into the next week with that same mentality. We’ve got to make plays. We’ve got to play hard. We’ve got to execute and go in there and put ourselves in a position to win.”

Wittenberg did not do enough of that late in the highest-scoring game in the series since Wittenberg beat Wabash 49-35 in Springfield in 2004.

Wabash quarterback Liam Thompson threw two of his four touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to break a 28-28 tie.

Thompson threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Heisman Skeens with 8:38 to play. Then Thompson threw a 66-yard touchdown pass to Cade Campbell with 5:49 remaining.

Thompson completed 35 of 45 passes for 434 yards one year after throwing four interceptions against Wittenberg in a 35-14 loss to Wittenberg in Crawfordsville, Ind. He has 16 touchdown passes in five games this season.

Asked what makes Thompson special, Wabash coach Don Morel said, “It’s just his desire to win. He’s the consummate team player. He does not care about accolades whatsoever. He just wants to win. Last week, he played an incredible game and we lost. I had never seen him so low. Then on Monday, he came back to practice and went back to work.”

After Wabash took a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter, Wittenberg answered quickly. CJ Burnette returned a kickoff 59 yards. Then Collin Brown threw a 12-yard touchdown pass Jake Saus with 5:42 remaining. It was the fifth touchdown pass of the game for Brown, who completed 20 of 28 passes for 265 yards.

Wabash got the ball back and then ran out the clock on a 14-play drive, kneeling on the ball inside the Wittenberg 10-yard line in the final seconds. One of the key plays on the final drive was a 12-yard run by Thompson on 3rd-and-10 at the Wabash 44-yard line.

“Their quarterback made all the plays he needed to make,” Collins said. “I know our defense played hard and laid it on the line. (Thompson) was the guy today. He did it with his feet and his arm. I give him credit. He’s a really good player, and he had a heck of a day.”

Garrett Gross led the Wittenberg running game with 105 yards on 19 carries. Drew Sterett caught four passes for 95 yards and two touchdowns. Saus added six catches for 65 yards.

“I thought (Brown) had a really good game today,” Collins said. “The receivers made plays. We had some guys that made some great catches. The running backs ran hard. The O line blocked hard. The effort today in all three phases was exceptional. We just needed to make one more play, and we didn’t make it and that’s the difference in the game.”

About the Author