Wittenberg, Wabash fighting for second place as they renew rivalry

Wittenberg huddles around Joe Fincham after a victory at Wabash on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, in Crawfordsville, Ind.

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Wittenberg huddles around Joe Fincham after a victory at Wabash on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, in Crawfordsville, Ind.

Tigers have won three straight games after losing to first-place DePauw

Longtime North Coast Athletic Conference rivals Wittenberg and Wabash, the two teams that have dominated the conference for most of this century, find themselves in unfamiliar territory with two games to play in the 2021 season: tied for second place with Ohio Wesleyan and Denison. All four are 5-2 in the league.

None of the four have much of a chance of catching first-place DePauw, which sits atop the standings with a 7-0 mark. DePauw likely will clinch the championship and the league’s NCAA Division III playoff berth by beating Oberlin (1-6 in league play) this week.

Wittenberg’s title hopes vanished with a 17-14 loss at home to DePauw on homecoming on Oct. 9. Beating Wabash on Saturday in Crawfordsville, Ind., would allow the Tigers to salvage something from this season.

“If you win this ball game, it certainly will make the winter a little bit easier on everybody,” Wittenberg coach Joe Fincham said, “and give you something to really build on going into 2022.”

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This will be the first game between Wittenberg and Wabash since 2019. The Little Giants hosted the last meeting and won 31-13. Wabash also beat Wittenberg in 2018, 28-21. Prior to that, Wittenberg had won four of the last five games. No team has won three straight regular-season matchups in the series since Wabash joined the NCAC in 2000.

Wabash (6-2 overall) opened the season with five straight victories, including a 39-38 overtime win at Denison, but then stumbled with a 44-41 loss at home to Wooster and a 35-28 overtime loss at Ohio Wesleyan. Those were the first back-to-back NCAC losses for Wabash since 2004.

Despite the losses, Wabash still leads the NCAC in scoring (40.9 points per game) and total offense (506 per game). Sophomore quarterback Liam Thompson leads the league in passing yards (306.5 per game) and touchdown passes (24).

“Their offense is scary,” Fincham said. “They’ve always had just ginormous offensive lines that lean on you and wear you down through the course of a game. Their quarterback’s probably the best guy they’ve had at that spot since maybe the late 2000s. He’s really accurate and has really good arm strength. He can throw with a lot of different arm angles, and he’s a tremendous athlete. So we will have our hands full — more than full — trying to slow that guy down.”

Wittenberg (5-3 overall) has beaten Oberlin, Kenyon and Allegheny by a combined margin of 111-60 since losing to DePauw. After playing Wabash, it closes the season at home against Wooster at 1 p.m. Nov. 13. The Tigers beat Allegheny 29-19 on the road last week.

“It’s never easy going on the road to win period, let alone at Allegheny, which has always been a tough place for us to play,” Fincham said. “We’ve taken some pretty good teams up there and, quite frankly, not played well at times. But I think our team has made some strides in the last three weeks. I think we’ve maybe found a little more continuity offensively and put some wins together and made some plays here and there. I think it it helps everybody’s confidence level a little bit and certainly has made made practice more upbeat for sure.”

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