“It’s an interesting dynamic,” Wittenberg coach Jim Collins said Thursday. “You bring up the past, but you also are looking forward and saying, ‘The past is behind us, and the team that goes out and plays the hardest and makes the fewest mistakes and makes the most plays is going to be the team that wins.’ Our guys are motivated to play a conference football game against a team that right now is undefeated in the conference, just like we are. You’ve got to play at a championship level. If you don’t, you’re not going to win those football games.”
Denison (3-1, 2-0) is tied for first in the North Coast Athletic Conference with DePauw (4-0, 2-0). Wittenberg (2-1, 1-0) and Wabash (2-1, 1-0) are the other teams without a league loss.
Denison’s only loss came against No. 8 Linfield, 28-14 on Sept. 9. Wittenberg also has only lost to a ranked team: 48-28 to Alma, which climbed from No. 20 to No. 19 after winning in Springfield on Saturday.
Drew Dawkins quarterbacked Denison to a 28-10 victory at Edwards-Maurer Field last season and a 21-16 victory in Granville in 2021, throwing two touchdown passes in each game.
Denison has a first-year starter at quarterback this season. Senior Jimmy Stines has 12 touchdown passes in four games. Seven of them came in the last two weeks as Denison scored 125 points against Oberlin and Kenyon.
Denison ranks 16th in NCAA Division III in rushing yards per game (230.8). Senior Trey Fabrocini, who has gained 205 yards against Wittenberg the last two seasons, averages 133.8.
“They run the ball really well,” Collins said. “They’ve got a senior quarterback who’s waited in the wings and paid his dues, and he’s playing well. He’s as much of a dual threat as anybody we’ve seen so far. They really like to pound the football, and play action’s a big part of their game offensively. Defensively, they’ve got a lot of starters back from last year. They’re physical. They run to the football. They’ve done a good job in red zone defense and keeping people from= scoring.”
Last week against Alma, Wittenberg fell into a 17-0 hole and watched it grow to 41-7 in the third quarter before it scored three of the game’s last four touchdowns.
“We have to get off to a better start,” Collins said. “We turned it over a couple of times. We gave up some plays. And we got behind early. Then you’re playing catch up, and that’s hard to do against a good football team. We were able to do it in Week 1, but at the same time, we weren’t down three or four touchdowns in Week 1 like we were this past week. The thing you learn is you’ve got to come out and play better early, and you’ve got to do the fundamentals better. You’ve got to tackle better. You’ve got to run to the football better. You’ve got to force turnovers. You’ve got to protect the football. And you’ve got to win in the kicking game. That was the disappointing thing really. In all three phases, we didn’t play as good as I think we can play.”