Wittenberg Tigers coach Joe Fincham spoke to a group of three seniors moments after a 24-14 victory over Wabash on Saturday at Edwards-Maurer Field.
“Don’t lose sight of where you are,” Fincham said, “and what you have to do.”
Where the Tigers are is first place in the North Coast Athletic Conference. What they have to do is win seven more games.
Few will doubt Wittenberg’s ability to do just that, not after a dominant performance — for the last three quarters at least — over their biggest rival. No. 10 Wabash (2-1, 1-1) jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first eight minutes and never scored again as No. 20 Wittenberg (3-0, 2-0) avenged a 42-14 loss at Wabash in 2015.
RELATED: View photos from the game
Wittenberg quarterback Jake Kennedy threw three touchdown passes, the first to Luke Bowling and the second two to Luke Landis. Will Gingery averaged 47.7 yards on nine punts as Wabash lived its worst nightmare in terms of field position in the second half. But Wittenberg’s defense stole the show by forcing two turnovers, holding Wabash to 2.2 yards per rushing attempt and making the Little Giants punt 10 times.
“Our defense played lights out,” Wittenberg linebacker Terrance Crowe said. “We knew what they were going to do. We executed and stopped them.”
The defense’s performance was all the more remarkable because of how its day began. On Wabash’s second play, it called a halfback pass, and Drake Christen threw a 75-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Oliver Page. On Wabash’s second drive, Connor Rice threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Sammy Adams.
At that moment, the Little Giants looked far superior to the Tigers.
“I don’t know if you could print what was going through my mind,” Fincham said. “We were just trying to stop the bleeding and getting guys to calm down. We had a bunch of young guys playing in a really big football game for the first time.”
The memory of the 2015 loss inspired the defense, not just on Saturday but every day since that defeat.
“We’ve been talking about this since that clock hit zero last season,” said linebacker Dustin Holmes, who led the Tigers with 22 tackles. “Everything we did in the offseason had to do with 28. We would do 28 push-ups, 28 up-downs because they beat us by 28 points last year.”
The game turned when Wittenberg’s defense started getting stops and the offense started finding a rhythm. Kennedy threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Landis with 8:02 left in the second quarter and then a 26-yard touchdown pass to Bowling three minutes later. A 26-yard touchdown catch by Landis in the third quarter gave the Tigers their first lead.
Kennedy completed 11 of 22 passes for 165 yards and rushed for 44 yards on 21 carries.
“He’s a tough kid,” Fincham said. “He’s learning on the job. I’m sure he would be the first one to tell you it’s not always pretty, but I can’t say enough about his competitiveness.”