Wittenberg plays Kenyon in home and NCAC opener

Tigers had a bye week after season-opening road victory

The Wittenberg Tigers have enjoyed an off week one week after their opener in 10 of the last 11 seasons — 2019 being the exception — and did so again this season.

That could change in 2024, coach Jim Collins said Wednesday.

“Next year, we open up with Baldwin-Wallace,” he said. “We have Week 2 free, and we’re still looking for a game, so potentially, we’ll get a game in Week 2. This year, there’s two (bye weeks) really because of Allegheny leaving the conference. We filled it with Alma (on Sept. 23).”

Wittenberg rallied from a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win 28-27 at the University of Dubuque in Iowa in its opener Sept. 2. It returns to action at 6 p.m. Saturday for its home and North Coast Athletic Conference opener against Kenyon (0-2) at Edwards-Maurer Field in Springfield.

Wittenberg beat Kenyon 51-28 in Gambier last season to earn Collins his first victory as head coach. It improved to 23-0 against Kenyon in NCAC play and has won the last 22 games by at least 16 points.

Kenyon has finished 3-7 the last three seasons and suffered nine straight losing seasons. It opened this season with a 51-35 loss at Bluffton and then lost 48-16 at home to Kalamazoo.

“Kenyon is going to be a challenge for our defense because of what they do offensively,” Collins said. “They’re going to air it out. They’re going to attack with a little bit of option even. Defensively, they’re no different. They’ve got some guys up front that I think are really good players and some young guys in the secondary that have a lot of potential. And they’re well coached. Our goal is we’ve got to play at a championship level every single day in practice and every single Saturday.”

The Wittenberg-Kenyon matchup will be one of four NCAC games played on the opening day of the conference season. Hiram (0-2) plays at preseason favorite DePauw (2-0) at 1 p.m. Denison (1-1) plays at Oberlin (1-1) at 1 p.m. Wooster (1-1) plays at Ohio Wesleyan at 7 p.m.

Wittenberg used its off week as an extension of the preseason. Collins said it was about “just getting better in every phase — working hard at getting better in blocking, tackling, throwing the football, catching the football, defending, all the special teams. We really used it as a week to focus on improvement in every single area.”

In looking back at the opener, what stood out to Collins was his team’s effort for the full 60 minutes.

“I think our execution at times was really good,” he said. “I think at other times it wasn’t where it needs to be, and that’s where that bye week comes into play. We started working on some of those things. Overall, I think what stood out was the guys that made plays in the big plays in that game — the punt return and the blocking on that punt returning and just the way our offense and defense executed in the fourth quarter — hopefully that showed the fact that our guys worked really hard over the summer and we had one of those type of preseasons where we put ourselves in a position to win in the fourth quarter because we’re in really good condition.”

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