Wittenberg seeks first victory against Denison since four-overtime game in 2018

Fifth-year senior Mike Knock a big part of Wittenberg’s success this season

Mike Knock stood on the sideline in Granville as a freshman in 2018 the last time Wittenberg beat Denison: 68-66 in four overtimes. He didn’t play in that game but saw action in 2019 when Wittenberg lost 24-14 to Denison in Springfield and last season when Wittenberg lost 21-16 at Denison.

From 1990-2015, Wittenberg didn’t lose to Denison, winning 22 straight games in the series. Now it has lost two in a row to the Big Red and three of the last five games in the series.

That will be a big piece of motivation for Wittenberg (4-2, 4-1) when it plays Denison (5-2, 3-2) at noon Saturday at Edwards-Maurer Field.

“I’m really looking forward to getting that opportunity,” Knock said.

Knock, a fifth-year senior defensive tackle and one of three starters on the unit from Springboro High School, has 23 tackles in six games and leads the team with four sacks and 6½ tackles for a loss. Knock made the All-North Coast Athletic Conference first team a season ago.

“He’s been great,” Wittenberg coach Jim Collins said. “He’s been a great leader. He got voted captain — and rightfully so. He plays hard all the time. I look at him as a guy that does things right in terms of being the type of practice player you need to be. You go hard every play. You never take a play off. He’s that type of guy. He’s high energy. Whatever we’re doing in practice, he’s on top of it. And then obviously it translates well to game day because he makes a ton of plays.”

Collins reached out to Knock soon after getting the job last fall following the departure of coach Joe Fincham because he knew he was a senior who had the option of returning for a fifth year. Collins told Knock he would love to have him back.

Knock, one of 71 players in the 2018 recruiting class, already planned to return for another season when the coaching staff changed occurred, but the talk with Collins solidified that decision.

“Once I got to talk to coach Collins on the phone, it was a no-brainer,” Knock said. “I was just as excited to come back as he was to come and coach. It’s been great to be around somebody like coach Collins. He’s so passionate about Wittenberg football and has been around the game. I like him a lot.”

Like wide receiver Jake Saus and other fifth-year seniors, Knock came back because of unfinished business. Wittenberg has not won the NCAC’s automatic playoff berth since 2017, the year before the fifth-year seniors arrived on campus. If Wittenberg wins its last three NCAC games against Denison, Wooster and Ohio Wesleyan and Wabash loses one of its last four games against Oberlin, Hiram, Kenyon or DePauw, Wittenberg would return to the playoffs.

First, Wittenberg has to deal with Denison, which beat Wabash 45-42 on the road but then lost 17-13 at home to DePauw and 41-7 at Ohio Wesleyan.

Quarterback Drew Dawkins, a fifth-year senior, will start against Wittenberg for the third time. He threw two touchdown passes to rally Denison from a 16-0 deficit against Wittenberg last season and has 15 touchdown passes in seven games this season.

“They’ve got a really good attack on offense,” Collins said. “They’re very balanced. The Dawkins kid is is a big-time dual threat. The way he played against Wabash, I just go back to that game. He made some incredible runs and passes. He’s got a really good supporting cast both in the passing game and the run game.”

Wittenberg recorded its most lopsided victory of the season last weekend, beating winless Oberlin 62-7 on the road to build on a 30-7 victory at DePauw.

“I think more than anything this past week is that after the DePauw game, we did not want to have a letdown,” Collins said. “We wanted to keep focusing on getting better, and we did that all week. When you do that and you have that type of focus, then you show up and execute at a high level. That’s what we did. We had a fast start defensively. We didn’t allow them to get a first down, and we forced turnovers early in that game. Offensively, we took care of business and ran the ball and made big plays in the passing game.”

About the Author