Wittenberg running game showing progress in recent weeks

Wittenberg’s Nick Kendall runs against Denison on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018, at Deeds Field in Granville. David Jablonski/Staff

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Wittenberg’s Nick Kendall runs against Denison on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018, at Deeds Field in Granville. David Jablonski/Staff

Kendall takes starting job after Sarley’s season-ending injury

Wittenberg hasn’t been Running Back U. for many years. The days of Casey Donaldson, Tristan Murray and Dave Merritt — the three leading rushers in school history — passed long ago. If an offensive record falls these days, it’s a passing or receiving mark.

Nine of the leading receivers in school history finished their careers between 2001 and 2015. The current starting quarterback, senior Jake Kennedy, broke the school's all-time passing yards record Saturday in a 47-28 victory over Hiram. With 263 yards, Kennedy pushed his career total to 6,563 and passed Reed Florence (6,419, 2010-13) and Aaron Huffman (6,446, 2006-09).

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Of course, the passing game won’t work quite as well without some help from the running game. After averaging 1.6 yards per rush in the season opener against Westminster and 3.2 the next week against Kenyon, the Tigers have averaged 8.2, 4.7 and 5.7 in the last three games.

“I think the running game is really important,” starting running back Nick Kendall said. “The passing game should open it up for us every week. We’ve just got to take advantage of it.

Kendall gets help from fellow juniors Jaheem Washington and Troy Clay and sophomore Sam Kayser, who played wide receiver last season.

“Nick’s our guy,” Wittenberg coach Joe Fincham said. “He’s been a little nicked up. He’s nicked up again now. When he’s healthy out there, he has really good vision. He has the ability to slip in and slip out of a lot of things. He’s tremendously bright and puts himself in a lot of good spots. Hopefully, the guys in front of him (the offensive line) have improved over the course of the season, too.

“We’ve got good production out of Kayser as a change-of-pace guy, and Jaheem and Troy have done a good job in limited rules where they’re closing out games or playing in some special situations where we’ve plugged them in.”

The loss of senior DeShawn Sarley, who tore his Achilles tendon in the preseason, left Wittenberg without a player who topped 700 yards the last two seasons.

“It was tough,” Kendall said. “He’s one of the leaders on the team and has been one of my best friends since I’ve been here. He’s been supporting me 100 percent. I appreciate that about him. He’s still a great friend.”

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Kendall, who ran for 869 yards in his freshman and sophomore seasons, has averaged 49.6 yards per game and 5.9 yards per carry. Washington has averaged 58.2 yards per game and 7.9 yards per carry. Clay averages 33.6 yards per game and 6.0 yards per carry. Kayser has rushed 20 times for 91 yards.

“It’s gone well taking over from DeShawn,” Kendall said. “We’ve all learned from each other because me, Jaheem and Sarley have been together for three years now. We know how each other roll and how to feed the hot hand.”

POLL NEWS: Wittenberg moved into the top 10 of the American Football Coaches Association poll for the first time this season Monday. The Tigers (5-0, 4-0) rank ninth at the halfway point of the regular season. They moved up three spots this week. It's the second year in a row Wittenberg has entered the top 10. It climbed as high as No. 9 last season when it finished the regular season 10-0. Wittenberg remains 16th in the D3Football.com poll. The Tigers play Allegheny (3-2, 3-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday in Meadville, Pa.

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