“That’s about as tough a game, as tough a loss as you’ll ever experience,” Wittenberg coach Jim Collins said. “We were right there, had the lead and didn’t win the fourth quarter and then didn’t win the overtime. The kids played hard. We had our share of mistakes all around, and it wasn’t good enough.”
Wittenberg (5-2, 4-1) lost a chance to move into first place alone in the North Coast Athletic Conference. Instead, DePauw (8-0, 6-0), the defending NCAC champion, moved 1½ games ahead of Wittenberg and Wabash (5-2, 4-1), who play next week in Crawfordsville, Ind.
Wittenberg led 35-21 after a 66-yard touchdown pass from Max Milton to Tyler May with 9:36 left in the fourth quarter. The two also hooked up for the first score of the game, an 81-yard pass play on Wittenberg’s first drive of the game.
DePauw rallied with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Gabe Quigley scored on a 3-yard run with 6:34 to play. Quarterback Nathan McCahill scored on a 2-yard run with 1:41 left.
On the ensuing kickoff, a penalty against Wittenberg forced it to start its final drive from the 13-yard line with 1:34 left. Collins elected to play it conservatively as his offense ran out the clock and took the game to overtime.
“(The penalty) totally changed my thinking about going for it,” Collins said. “With that much time on the clock, I didn’t feel comfortable giving them the ball back on a short field.”
Wittenberg also blew a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter earlier this season at Denison but won that game 27-24 in overtime on a 24-yard touchdown pass from Milton to May. This time, Wittenberg got the ball first, but the offense lost two yards on its first pass play and then threw two incompletions to set up 4th-and-12. Rather than attempt a 44-yard field goal, Wittenberg went for it, and Milton threw an incompletion in the end zone.
DePauw’s offense, already with momentum from two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter, needed only five plays, all runs, to get in the end zone and win the game.
McCahill completed 21-of-32 passes for 337 yard with three touchdowns and led DePauw to touchdowns on its last four drives. Wittenberg intercepted him twice after picking off four passes in a victory at DePauw last season, Jourdan Stipe returned one of them 65 yards to give Wittenberg a 24-14 lead in the second quarter.
Milton completed 24 of 39 passes for 345 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
DePauw can clinch a share of the NCAC championship next week with a victory at Kenyon (1-6, 1-4). It then plays at Wabash on Nov. 11.
Wittenberg plays at Wabash, at Ohio Wesleyan and at home against Wooster in its final three games.
“We’ve got to get ready to play a really good Wabash team,” Collins said. “We can’t take a day off. We can’t hang our heads and feel sorry for ourselves. We’ve got to get back to work. And that feeling of frustration from losing a game like that, we’ve got to use that as motivation.”