No. 18 Wittenberg holds off DU, 38-20
The No. 18 Wittenberg Tigers scored 21 of the game's final 24 points to hold off Denison, 38-20, from Edwards-Maurer Field in Springfield, Ohio. The loss drops Denison's record to 4-2 overall while Wittenberg improves to 4-1.
Trailing 24-20 in the third quarter after Matt Puracchio's second field goal of the game connected from 28-yard out, the Denison defense took the field against the explosive Tiger offense that checked into the game ranked 17th in the nation in total offense. As quarterback Reed Florence guided the Tigers into Denison territory, sophomore safety Lucas Romick was there to post his second interception of the day in the end zone, giving the Big Red the ball on the 25-yard line with a chance to take its first lead since the score was 10-7 after Colin Morris' 52-yard punt return in the second quarter.
On their ensuing possession, Denison would be forced to punt without gaining a first down, giving the Tigers good field possession with four minutes to play in the third. Wittenberg moved the ball to midfield, and faced with a 4th and 1, Florence would be stopped by a surging Denison defense, allowing the Big Red offense to take over at midfield.
After gaining four yards on first down, Denison would be forced to punt. Denison's Andy Shaw got off a good one, sending it 41-yards, and deep into Wittenberg territory. However, a facemask penalty on Denison combined with an unsportsmanlike conduct call on the Tigers would offset, forcing Shaw to punt to the Tigers once again.
In the second quarter Wittenberg's speedy cornerback, Victor Banjo, blocked a Shaw punt that set up a 3-yard TD pass from Florence to Zac Wilson. On the re-punt after the offsetting penalties, Banjo would strike again, tipping Shaw's punt allowing it to only travel 22 yards.
Four plays later, Florence would complete a pass to Desi Kirkman for 38-yards and then would find Brendon Cunningham on a 9-yard TD strike, giving Wittenberg a 31-20 lead with 13:45 to play.
The Big Red would counter with a 10-play 54-yard drive that chewed up almost six minutes of game clock, but facing a 4th and 4 from the Tigers' 31-yard line, Denison quarterback Brandon Sklenar was stopped in his tracks by Josh Bannick, stalling the drive and virtually assuring that a Denison comeback would not be in the cards on this afternoon.
In the pivotal second quarter, the Tigers displayed their quick-strike ability by going 63 yards in three plays to score with 27 seconds left in the quarter. The touchdown put Wittenberg up 24-17 heading into the locker room. It may have been a bigger blow to the Big Red's psyche, who after driving 76-yards in just six plays, had Jack Hatem hoping he would be sitting on a 17-17 game at halftime, rather than a seven-point deficit.
Denison's offensive star in the first half was Morris. Aside from the 52-yard punt return for a touchdown, he also scored on a 28-yard pass from Sklenar, capping off that 76-yard drive in the second quarter. He would finish the day with 22 yards rushing, 44 yards receiving, and 52 return yards. Sklenar was 27-for-38 for 240 yards and one TD pass. He also led the team in rushing with 36 yards off 16 carries. Kyle Green was his top target. He hauled in seven passes for 52 yards.
Florence finished the game 16-for-22 for 351 yards and four touchdown passes. Cunningham led the team with six receptions for 136 yards while Wilson caught five passes for 105 yards. Kirkman followed with three receptions for 92 yards.
Denison is idle next Saturday and will return to action on Oct. 26 when they travel to The College of Wooster for a 7 p.m. kickoff.