Wittenberg starts NCAC play Saturday at Kenyon

Tigers will try to bounce back after 20-point loss at Cortland

Nine times in the last 10 football season, Wittenberg has played a game on the opening weekend and then practiced for two weeks before its next game. That’s always more difficult after a season-opening loss, and that’s been the situation the last two seasons.

Wittenberg lost 38-16 to SUNY Cortland in Springfield Week 1 in 2021 and suffered another double-digit defeat this year, 48-28 at Cortland in the first game for new head coach Jim Collins on Sept. 3.

“It was hard because you get in the flow of things in game week, and you want to keep it going,” Collins said Wednesday. “It’s never easy to play a game and then have a week off, but we handled it well. I thought we had good practices, intense practices. I think the best way to take some of the complacency away during a bye week is to make things competitive with your best players. That’s what we did.”

Wittenberg’s wait for its second game ends when it plays Kenyon at 1 p.m. Saturday in Gambier. It’s the first of eight straight North Coast Athletic Conference games. Wittenberg then closes the regular season with one more non-conference game against another New York school, Hilbert College, on Nov. 12 at Edwards-Maurer Field.

Kenyon (1-1) opened the season with a 33-26 victory against Bluffton and then lost 24-21 at Kalamazoo last week. Wittenberg is 22-0 against Kenyon in NCAC play and has won the last 21 games by at least 16 points.

“The message this week is when you watch people on film, you see how hard they play and see how physical they are and you see them make plays,” Collins said. “It’s college football, and all you need to do is watch everything on a weekly basis. You watch a Notre Dame play Marshall, and Marshall on that Saturday is a better team. It’s all about who the best team is on that particular Saturday, and nothing else matters. Our goal is to be the absolute best we can be. It’s not necessarily about playing the opponent as much. It’s about playing to our top level of ability, and then you hope it’s good enough.”

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Big plays hurt Wittenberg in its opener. Cortland, which improved to 2-0 with a 63-7 victory against the College of New Jersey on Saturdeay, scored on pass plays of 49, 90 and 80 yards. Cortland quarterback Zac Boyes threw for 543 yards.

“Their quarterback threw some great balls, and those kids made some great catches,” Collins said, “but we’ve got to be better. That can’t happen.”

Cortland took advantage of one of the most inexperience parts of Wittenberg’s roster: the secondary.

“It was trial by fire,” Collins said. “There were four guys starting their first game against a good football team with a quarterback that can make plays and receivers who can go up and get the football. It was a great learning experience but not the outcome we wanted or the way we wanted our defensive backs to get their careers started. But at the same time, it’s Week 1, and we’ve got a chance to grow and learn.”

Wittenberg also fell in a 31-7 hole because its offense didn’t finish drives. After Collin Brown threw a 48-yard touchdown pass to Tyler May on Wittenberg’s first drive, tying the score at 7-7, Wittenberg drove to the Cortland 35-yard line on its second drive only to stall there and turn the ball over on downs.

Wittenberg’s Tyler VanMeter intercepted Boyes on Cortland’s second drive. Wittenberg again moved the ball on offense, reaching the Cortland 22. Then Brown was picked off at the 3.

“It was just a late throw, and he didn’t get everything he could into it,” Collins said. “Those are the key points in a game like that. When you play good people, you’ve got to take advantage of every opportunity.”

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