Wittenberg survives late Westminster rally to win opener

Wittenberg plays Westminster on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, in New Wilmington, Pa. Michael Cooper/Staff

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Wittenberg plays Westminster on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, in New Wilmington, Pa. Michael Cooper/Staff

Springfield grad Snodgrass stars in opener

The Wittenberg Tigers survived a fourth-quarter comeback by Westminster College, winning the season opener 20-14 on Saturday in New Wilmington, Pa.

Westminster cut the lead to 17-14 on a 6-yard touchdown run by Dominique McKinley with 7:22 left in the fourth quarter. Wittenberg pushed the lead to 20-14 on a 22-yard field goal by Adam Acquista with 2:51 to play.

Westminster had 1st-and-10 at the Wittenberg 12-yard line in the final minute but gained only one more yard. Paul Columbo’s final pass, on 4th-and-9, was incomplete. Wittenberg took over and ran out the clock.

“Obviously, anytime you play a good team on the road, they’re going to rally at some point,” Wittenberg coach Joe Fincham said. “Their quarterback got hot, throwing some short passes, some underneath stuff with a high completion percentage. The next thing you know, on the drive they scored, they got the run game going. Then at the end of the game, in the two-minute drill, they were dinking and dunking us to death. Our defense didn’t panic, stuck together and made a couple plays down the stretch and got out of it.”

Springfield graduate Thaddeus Snodgrass, making his Wittenberg debut, caught two touchdown passes from quarterback Jake Kennedy and led the Tigers with four catches for 117 yards.

Snodgrass started his career at the University of Kentucky and then transferred and enrolled at a junior college but never played. He didn’t play college football last fall.

“Thad is obviously a very talented football player,” Fincham said. “He’s been hurt. He practiced some this week, but in previous weeks in camp, he was out with a groin. The little bit we’ve seen of him, we knew he was a talented guy. He’s bright, too. He learned the offense. I hd no idea how many snaps we’d get out of him today. I think the weather probably helped his cause. This was the coldest opening game in the history of football, I think.”

The temperature was in the low 60s at kickoff, but Wittenberg mostly avoided the rain that plagued Ohio on Saturday.

Kennedy, beginning his second season as the starter, completed 13 of 29 passes for 188 yards. He had two touchdown passes and one interception.

DeShawn Sarley rushed 21 times for 96 yards.

“He battled some cramps at times, but he got downhill a couple times,” Fincham said. “It was good to see. He moved the chain for us a couple times. He was really important for us.”

Kenton Ridge grad Jeff Tiffner caught four passes for 25 yards. Linebacker Terrance Crowe, a Springfield grad, led the team with 14 tackles. Safety Jay Mastin and linebacker Jack Kayser had interceptions.

Kennedy threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Snodgrass on the first play of the second quarter to give Wittenberg a 7-0 lead.

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Westminster tied the game 7-7 on its first drive of the third quarter. Columbo threw a 51-yard touchdown pass to Jametrius Bentley.

The Tigers regained the lead on the second play of the following drive. Kennedy threw a 59-yard touchdown pass to Snodgrass.

Acquista, making his first start at kicker, made a 22-yard field goal with 4:34 left in the third quarter, giving the Tigers a 17-7 lead.

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Penalties marred the game. Wittenberg was penalized 10 times for 70 yards. Westminster had 10 penalties for 110 yards.

This was the first game in a two-game series between Wittenberg and Westminser. The Tigers will host the Titans in the 2018 season opener.

Wittenberg does not play next Saturday and returns to action at 3:30 p.m. Sept. 16 against Oberlin at Edwards-Maurer Field in the first of nine straight North Coast Athletic Conference games.

Fincham hopes a road victory against a quality team will give his team momentum for the conference race.

“They’re certainly a playoff-caliber team,” Fincham said of Westminster. “They’ve got players. We need them to have the season I think they’re capable of having. It could put a chip in our pocket for down the road. That team’s won 17 games the last two years. Without putting the cart in front of the horse, you’re going to walk on the field (in future games), and the players have already seen a talented, big, physical team that can run by you. It also gives your team the confidence that they can win a game that’s close. We’ve had teams over the years that blew a bunch of people out and got in tight games and they got tight. We all get tight to a degree. It’s about manaing that tightness. Hopefully, it’ll pay dividends as we move forward.”

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