Coach Joe Fincham dives deep into the history book to inspire the Wittenberg Tigers when they play Allegheny as they will do at 1 p.m. Saturday in Meadville, Pa.
“Anytime I start to talk about Allegheny, I start off with how much of a bloodbath it was through the ’90s and early 2000s,” Fincham said.
Fincham needed the old examples in recent years as a way of warning his team to take the Gators seriously because the players know they have dominated the present. Wittenberg has won nine straight games against the team once considered its biggest North Coast Athletic Conference rival, and the last seven games have been decided by 30 points or more.
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The Gators won the Division III national championship in 1990. Fincham’s first trip to Meadville came that year, when he was a Wittenberg assistant coach, and it’s still the experience he mentions first when asked about his most memorable games against the Gators.
“I can remember the first time we went up there and got bludgeoned 38-0 by the team that won the national championship,” Fincham said. “That one stood out pretty good.”
That remains the most lopsided NCAC loss in Fincham’s 29 years at Wittenberg and the third-worst loss of any kind. Only two non-conference losses to Capital in back-to-back season openers (54-0 in 2005 and 57-7 in 2006) top it.
Allegheny’s excellence for many years made its decline in recent years even more surprising, but the program appears on its way back to respectability in 2018. It is 3-2 at the halfway point in the regular season and 3-1 in the NCAC. This follows a five-year span in which it won a total of five games, finishing 0-10 in 2013 and then 1-9, 0-10, 1-9 and 3-7.
Wabash grad B.J. Hammer, now in his third season has led the turnaround at Allegheny. The Gators have one of the top receivers in the conference: Alex Victor, who leads the NCAC with 123.2 receiving yards per game. Their running back, Alex Balla, ranks second with 106.8 rushing yards per game.
Allegheny has victories over Ohio Wesleyan (2-3, 2-2), Hiram (1-4, 0-4) and Wooster (2-3, 1-3). It lost 42-0 at Denison (3-2, 3-1), the only opponent it has faced in the top five of the standings.
“They are slowly but surely getting back to the Allegheny of old,” Fincham said. “You turn the tape on, and physically, they look a lot better. They’re certainly playing better.”