- David Jablonski Staff Writer
Wittenberg Tigers defensive lineman Chandler Ferko planted a kiss on wide receiver Bryce Bailey’s head as he was walking past him outside the locker room Wednesday.
That’s the kind of attention you get when you catch the winning touchdown in the fourth quarter of the biggest game of the season, as Bailey did Saturday in a 21-14 victory at Wabash.
“Do you get kisses when you make catches like that?” someone asked Bailey.
“I hope not,” Bailey said with a laugh. “That’s the first one.”
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Ferko deserved similar love. He recorded three sacks in the victory and was named North Coast Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Week.
The Tigers (8-0, 7-0) can clinch a share of the conference title and a playoff berth with a victory in a 1 p.m. Saturday game against Ohio Wesleyan. Wittenberg ranks second in the North Region behind Mount Union (8-0) in the first NCAA regional rankings, which were released this week. That puts the Tigers in line for a home playoff game in the first round if they win their last two games.
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All that was made possible by Bailey’s 24-yard touchdown reception with 6:54 left in the fourth quarter. Four days after the big catch, Bailey admitted the memory was a blur. The Tigers trailed 14-13 when quarterback Jake Kennedy found him in the back of the end zone.
“It was a crucial play we needed,” he said. “Jake put the ball in a perfect spot. All game they had been biting on choice routes.”
Offensive coordinator Reed Florence adjusted the play calling at halftime to capitalize on that, Bailey said. Receivers coach Michael Cooper, who had the only touchdown grab in Wittenberg’s 10-7 victory at Wabash in 2009, looked at Bailey before the play, knowing the ball was going his way.
“We practice it every day,” Bailey said. “It’s just one of those things: perfect repetition every time. It was a surreal moment. I had been waiting a long time to make a play like that.”
The Columbus Academy graduate Bailey, whose dad Shawn was a three-time letter-winner for the Wittenberg men’s basketball team in the late 1980s, leads the Tigers with 29 receptions. He ranks second on the team with 354 receiving yards, trailing Jeff Tiffner (28 catches for 404 yards).
Bailey saw his first varsity action as a junior, catching 15 passes for 166 yards and one touchdown. He has found a bigger role in the offense as a senior, though it’s not easy getting playing time in a deep position group.
“We’ve got about six or seven guys we can put in at any moment,” Bailey said.
None of the other receivers has a second job on the field like Bailey. He ranks second in the NCAC in punting average (38.8). He practices punting every day, staying after practice on Tuesday and Wednesday for extra work.
“With the help of coach (Will) Gingery and coach (Gary) Sitler, it’s definitely been manageable,” Bailey said. “I want to take pride in it and help my team in field position. Like coach (Joe) Fincham said, punting is one of the most important plays in football.”