The Wittenberg Tigers have averaged 1.6 losses per season, including playoff games, in the previous 10 seasons. When defeats are that rare, they hurt even more — and few have hurt worse than the 28-21 overtime loss to Wabash in Springfield a year ago.
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The Tigers tied the game on the final play of the second half only to give up a quick touchdown to open overtime and then see the game end on an interception in the red zone.
Wittenberg had a chance to beat Wabash for the third straight year, something it hasn’t done since the Little Giants joined the North Coast Athletic Conference in 2000. Instead, Wabash tied the NCAC series at 10-10. Wabash’s victory cost Wittenberg the outright NCAC championship, and Denison advanced to the Division III playoffs by winning a three-way tiebreaker against Wittenberg and Wabash.
It was a costly loss in many ways and one that will be on Wittenberg’s mind when it plays Wabash at 1 p.m. Saturday in Crawfordsville, Ind.
“Losing is never fun,” Wittenberg coach Joe Fincham said before practice Wednesday. “Last year was certainly no fun for us. I’m sure they’ve had years where they’ve felt the same way. It’s part of having the rivalry.”
Wittenberg entered that game last season with a 6-0 league record, while Wabash had already suffered a 34-10 loss at Denison. It’s a similar story this season.
Wittenberg (4-1, 4-0) sits alone atop the NCAC after routing Allegheny 52-14 for its fourth straight victory. Wabash (3-2, 3-1) lost 24-10 at Wooster (3-2, 2-2) on Saturday, dropping into a tie for second place with Ohio Wesleyan (4-1, 3-1), DePauw (3-2, 3-1) and Denison (4-1, 3-1).
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Wabash began the season ranked 23rd in the D3Football.com poll but lost 31-28 to Wisconsin-Stevens Point (2-3) in the season opener.
“They return a lot of guys on defense,” Fincham said. “It’s a typical Wabash defense. They play really hard. They’re really fast. They tackle well. They’re coached well. Offensively, they’ve got a little different flavor to them. Not only can they beat you to death on the ground with their line and their backs, but they’re playing a young guy at quarterback who’s got a really live arm, and he can beat you with his feet, too.”
Freshman quarterback Liam Thompson averages 236.8 passing yards per game. He has thrown seven touchdown passes and five interceptions. He threw for 312 yards against Wooster but was intercepted three times and sacked seven times.
Wooster beat Wabash for the first time since 2004.
“They turned it over and gave up a couple of plays,” Fincham said, “and field position probably didn’t go their way either. Those are hard things to overcome. Wooster could have very easily gotten us.”
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The Scots lost 14-12 to Wittenberg in Springfield on Sept. 21 and would have tied the game on a two-point conversion late in the fourth quarter if not for a dropped pass.
Wittenberg and Wabash are the only teams to win outright NCAC championships in the last 14 seasons. There have been two seasons (2018 and 2012) when Wittenberg or Wabash or both tied with another team for the championship.
“It’s gone right down to the wire a lot of times,” Fincham said. “I think both teams play hard against each other. Hopefully, both teams respect each other. I know we respect them and all their tradition. Year in and year out since 2000, this has been the game on the schedule that everybody looks at.”
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