Wittenberg Tigers: Ranking top playoff games of Fincham era

Updated Nov 15, 2017
Corey Weber (9) of Wittenberg is pursued by Ryan Rickaby (24) of Trine during Saturday’s second-round Division III playoff football game at Edwards-Maurer Field on Nov. 28, 2009. Wittenberg won the game 34-17. Staff Photo by Barbara J. Perenic

Even after all these years, the Hardin-Simmons game remains tough to beat. If Wittenberg Tigers coach Joe Fincham had to rank the most exciting playoff game in his first 21 seasons, that first-round from 2001 would top the list.

“That was obviously a long time ago,” Fincham said Tuesday, “but they were the preseason No. 1 team in the country.”

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Three memories stick out from that victory. Fincham remembers the “pile of humanity” in the middle of the field after the win. He remembers four fans in cowboy hats taunting his team throughout the game from behind the end zone. He also remembers assistant coach Mark Ewald and several players jumping into a swimming pool near the locker room after the game.

“I was a little bit worried about what the chlorine would do to the uniforms,” Fincham said.

The No. 12 Tigers (10-0) return to the playoffs at noon Saturday against No. 15 Frostburg State (9-1) at Edwards-Maurer Field. Here’s a look back at that Hardin-Simmons game and six more of the most memorable playoff games of the Fincham era:

1. Nov. 17, 2001: Wittenberg 38, Hardin-Simmons 35 (OT): Fincham will forever talk about the surprise of being sent to Abilene, Texas, for a first-round game. It’s by far the longest distance Wittenberg has traveled for a playoff game during his tenure.

It was all worth it when Conrad Hindert kicked a 24-yard field goal in overtime to win the game. The Tigers overcame a 21-7 halftime deficit, tying the game on a 5-yard pass from Greg Cornett to Michael Aljancic with 23 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

Wittenberg played much closer to home in the second round, winning 41-0 at Thomas More.

2. Nov. 19, 2016: Wittenberg 33, Thomas More 30 (4OT):Will Gingery’s 37-yard field goal in the fourth overtime gave the Tigers a road victory in the first round.

“Fourth overtime, playoff game, senior year,” Gingery said. “Yeah, it can’t get any better than that.”

Wittenberg held Thomas More to 17 yards in the overtime periods. Thomas More missed a 40-yard field goal before the game-winning kick by Gingery.

“That was a heckuva football game,” Fincham said after the game. “Nobody deserves to lose this game. We’ve been grinders all year. We aren’t the prettiest girl at the dance, but we have become accustomed to that style and we play hard.”

3. Nov. 17, 2012: Wittenberg 52, Heidelberg 38: The Tigers trailed 28-6 early in the second quarter and 31-13 at halftime but scored five touchdowns in a row in the second half to take the lead. An interception return for a touchdown by Heath Eby in the final minute secured the victory.

Reed Florence threw five touchdown passes, three of them to Brendon Cunningham.

4. Nov. 28, 1998: Mount Union 21, Wittenberg 19: This is the closest Wittenberg has come to beating the perennial powerhouse from Alliance in Fincham’s career. This game will always be remembered for a late holding call that wiped out a 41-yard run by Casey Donaldson. The Tigers would have had a first down at the Mount Union 10-yard line with 10 minutes left.

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Wittenberg has since lost three times to Mount Union in the playoffs: 32-15 in 2000; 49-21 in 2001 and 56-21 in 2013. The Tigers will get another trip to Alliance this season if they and the Purple Raiders advance to the national quarterfinals.

5. Nov. 23, 2002: Wittenberg 34, Hanover 33: The Tigers rallied from a 21-7 halftime deficit to win this first-round game in Indiana. Jered Glover caught an 80-yard touchdown pass from Cornett with 6:59 to play to give Wittenberg the lead.

6. Nov. 21, 1998: Wittenberg 13, Millikin 10: Fincham guided Wittenberg to the playoffs for the first time in his third season. This was his first game. Donaldson rushed 33 times for 141 yards in a victory at Edwards-Maurer Field. Anthony Crane completed 7 of 14 passes for 70 yards with one interception.

7. Nov. 28, 2009: Wittenberg 34, Trine 17: This second-round victory at Edwards-Maurer Field was one of the best performances by one of Fincham’s best teams.

Aaron Huffman threw five touchdown passes. Corey Weber rushed for 204 yards. Michael Cooper and Josh McKee each caught two touchdown passes.