Quarterback Jake Kennedy could still walk. He might have been the last Wittenberg football player to leave the field Saturday. Everyone wants to talk to you when you’ve just thrown seven touchdown passes.
Wide receiver Jeff Tiffner could still stand. He emerged from the locker room in one piece — one of the many minor miracles on a night to remember at Denison’s Deeds Field — after scoring four of Wittenberg’s nine touchdowns.
» FIRST-HALF PHOTOS: Wittenberg vs. Denison
Wittenberg Tigers coach Joe Fincham, on the other hand, spent most of time between the end of a 68-66 four-overtime victory and the bus ride home perched on a bench just outside the locker room. Two years earlier, he sat nearby with a similar look on his face as he pondered a 24-21 loss. This time, joy and relief — the later emotion coming from having blown a 35-10 halftime lead and still winning the game — accompanied the disbelief.
“Right now it’s all kind of a blur, to be honest with you,” Fincham said.
In his 23rd season, Fincham can now claim to have coached in the highest-scoring game in Wittenberg and North Coast Athletic Conference history. The 134 points scored by Wittenberg and Denison topped the 131 scored by Earlham and Manchester in 2005.
“You get into games like that, and no team deserves to lose,” Fincham said. Both teams will go back and look back at all the mistakes that were made, but at the end of the day, it’s about a bunch of kids making a whole bunch of plays.”
There’s not room in newsprint or even on the internet to list all of those plays, but here are five things to know about one of the most memorable of Wittenberg’s 768 all-time victories:
1. Winning play: Kennedy threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Thaddeus Snodgrass to tie the game at 66-66 in the fourth overtime. Starting with the third overtime, both teams had to go for two after touchdowns. Kennedy scrambled to his left, followed his blockers and dove to add the 2-point conversion and win the game.
“It was close,” Kennedy said. “I was barely able to reach across and get the pylon, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
2. Record breaker: Wittenberg offensive coordinator Reed Florence knew right away Kennedy had set a school record for touchdown passes in a game. That’s because Florence had owned the record. He threw six touchdown passes twice in 2013 against Wooster and Lebanon Valley. He still owns the mark for a non-overtime game.
With 16 touchdown passes in four games this season, Kennedy has 59 in his career. He’s 15 away from tying Florence’s school record.
Kennedy completed 31 of 43 passes for 421 yards. He set a school record for passing yards in a game. Charlie Green had owned the record of 411 since 1963.
Kennedy saved Wittenberg twice in the overtimes by converting 4th-and-10 in the second overtime and 4th-and-7 in the fourth overtime. An incompletion on either play would have ended the game and derailed Wittenberg’s regular-season winning streak, which reached 18 games. The No. 11 Tigers (4-0, 3-0) still haven’t lost outside the playoffs since losing at Denison in 2016.
“That was the funnest game I’ve ever played in times 100,” Kennedy said.
3. Big stop: The Tigers had no answer for Denison quarterback Canaan Gebele in the second half or throughout the overtime periods. He led the Big Red to touchdowns on seven of their last eight possessions.
However, after Gebele scored on a 14-yard run to give Denison a 66-60 lead in the fourth overtime, his 2-point conversion pass failed. Sophomore Jordan Burkey stopped the Denison receiver just short of the goal line.
Gebele completed 17 of 31 passes for 262 yards and two touchdowns and rushed 24 times for 119 yards and five scores. He engineered a 12-play, 83-yard drive to tie the game at 38-38 with 44 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
“We didn’t help (the defense) at all,” Fincham said. “We couldn’t get anything going (offensively) in the second half. The next thing you know, the quarterback got really hot. In the overtime, we were dead on our feet defensively.”
4. Career night: The Kenton Ridge graduate Tiffner led the receivers with 10 catches for 136 yards with four touchdowns. He had a hat trick in the first half but didn’t get in the end zone again until the first overtime. He also scored a 2-point conversion in the third overtime.
“We preach a lot in big games you’re going to have a lot of highs and a lot of lows,” Tiffner said. “We’ve got to ride out the highs as long as we can and fire our butts off when we’re in the lows. So that’s all we were doing. ‘We’ve go to fight. Let’s keep going. Our defense is going to make stops. We’ve got to go out there and create big drives.”
5. Odds and ends: Springfield graduate Thaddeus Snodgrass was overshadowed by Tiffner’s big night — but only barely. Snodgrass caught six passes for 97 yards and three touchdowns. He fought off a Denison defensive back to catch a tipped pass for a score in the third overtime.
• This was Wittenberg’s second four-overtime game in three seasons. It beat Thomas More 33-30 in four overtimes in the first round of the 2016 playoffs.
• Wittenberg and Denison have played 163 times in basketball and have one 68-66 game (1965-66, won by Denison). They have played 82 times in football and now have one 68-66 game.
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