Wabash turned back the clock 16 years on Saturday at Edwards-Maurer Field, celebrating a 28-21 overtime victory over Wittenberg. The game brought back memories of another overtime thriller, one that kick-started the best rivalry in the North Coast Athletic Conference.
After a pass by Wabash quarterback Jake Reid on the first play of overtime gave the Little Giants a first down at the 10-yard line, Isaac Avant scored the go-ahead touchdown one play later. Then Wabash’s Jake Page intercepted Wittenberg’s Jake Kennedy on the second play of Wittenberg’s possession, ending the game.
“Their quarterback made a huge throw into the boundary over there,” Wittenberg coach Joe Fincham said. “We had two guys around the receiver, and (Avant) is a good player, and he popped one in there. The next thing you know you’re playing from behind again.”
» TIFFNER FEATURE: Witt’s leading receiver is also a barber
The Tigers overcame a 14-7 halftime deficit, tying the game in the fourth quarter on a touchdown pass from wide receiver Jeff Tiffner to Kennedy. The Tigers then sent the game to overtime by scoring on the last play of regulation. Kennedy threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Liam Duncan as time expired. Wabash had jumped offsides on the play, so Wittenberg would have had one more play had that pass fell incomplete.
The Tigers had the momentum, but it was short-lived as overtime ended fast.
Wabash celebrated on the turf in Springfield just as it did in 2002 after its first victory over Wittenberg. That 46-43 decision ended Wittenberg’s 30-game North Coast Athletic Conference winning streak. This loss by Wittenberg ended its 21-game regular-season winning streak.
No. 8 Wittenberg (7-1, 6-1) fell into a first-place tie with Wabash (7-1, 6-1) and Denison (6-2, 6-1). According to Wabash and Wittenberg spokesmen, Denison will get the NCAC’s automatic playoff berth if it all three teams win their remaining two games because it will have the longest conference winning streak at that point. That tiebreaker is well down the list of tiebreakers, but it would be the one that would come into play.
Whatever happens in the final two weeks, Wabash recorded perhaps the biggest victory of the Don Morel era. The third-year coach was 0-2 against Wittenberg.
“These guys have fought through incredible adversity all year that no college football team should ever have to fight through,” said Morel, referring to the death of senior linebacker and captain Evan Hansen, who took his own life in September. “They do not quit ever. They take the highs and lows as they come. They did a great job. Wittenberg is a tremendous opponent, but the Wabash guys did not back down. Neither did the Wittenberg guys. It was a great game.”
» SERIES HISTORY: Best and worst of Witt vs. Wabash
Kennedy, who was playing his last regular-season home game along with the rest of the seniors, threw two interceptions in the second half before rallying the Tigers.
Kennedy caught the game-tying touchdown pass from Tiffner on 4th-and-4 with 6:20 left. Then after Wabash regained the lead on a touchdown catch by Oliver Page with 1:24 to play, Kennedy marched the Tigers to another game-tying score.
“We’ve won a ton of games because of (Kennedy), and he had a tough one today,” Fincham said. “That happens to quarterbacks. When it does, there are 10 other guys in the huddle and a defense and special teams that have got to pick him up.”