Fast Start Stalls In Loss at Wittenberg
by Brent Harris
September 24, 2016
Wabash jumped out to a 14-0 lead against Wittenberg Saturday, only to stall offensively in the second half in a 24-14 road loss to the Tigers.
Drake Christen hit Oliver Page for a 74-yard touchdown pass on the second play from scrimmage for the Little Giants’ first strike. A 23-yard pass connection from Connor Rice to Sammy Adams put Wabash in front 14-0 on the second offensive series of the North Coast Athletic Conference matchup.
Wabash racked up 140 yards of total offense on the first two series. The Little Giants were limited 137 yards for the remainder of the game by the Wittenberg defense. Wabash posted 84 rushing yards and 193 passing yards in the loss.
“We got off to the good start with great execution on those early drives,” Wabash head coach Don Morel said. “After those series we just struggled to run the ball. Last week ran for 513 yards. This week it was 84 yards. We also struggled in the passing game. Offensively we just didn’t play well.”
Wabash forced a punt after a six-play drive by Wittenberg to open the game. The Little Giants ran Christen to left on the first offensive play for a yard, then started a run to the opposite side on the second play. The former high school quarterback planted and threw a strike to Page who raced down the right side to the end zone for his second touchdown of the season.
The Little Giants forced a punt after three plays on the next Wittenberg series. Wabash moved the ball 65 yards on the subsequent offense drive, capped by the 23-yard pass to Adams for his first score of the year.
Wabash limited the Tigers (3-0, 2-0 NCAC) to 41 total yards in the first quarter before Wittenberg began to find a rhythm on offense. The Tigers rolled out an eight-play, 70-yard drive on their first possession of the second quarter, capped by an 8-yard pass to Luke Landis from Jake Kennedy to cut the lead to 14-7. Wittenberg took advantage of a 26-yard punt return to set up a short field on its next possession. Three plays later Kennedy hit Luke Bowling with a 26-yard pass to tie the score at 14-14.
The score remained tied heading into halftime. Wabash started the second half on its own 25-yard line, which would prove to be its best starting field position over the next seven offensive series. The Little Giants gained only two first downs on drives starting on their own three-, two-, ten-, and five yard lines.
The Wabash defense did its part to keep Wittenberg’s offense in check. The Tigers started with ball in Wabash territory or near midfield on four straight possessions. The Little Giants held Wittenberg to 15 yards on the first three series before the Tigers struck for the eventual game-winning score on a 26-yard pass to Landis. Wittenberg finished with nine more yards of offense than Wabash at 286 --- 121 yards rushing and 165 passing.
“Kudos to our defense,” Morel said. “Those guys kept us in the game time after time after time, especially in the second half.”
The Tigers tacked on a field goal in the closing minutes of the game, converting an interception into three points to stretch the lead to ten points. Rice marched Wabash down field in an attempt to cut the lead to a single score, but the drive ended when the Little Giants were unable to convert a fourth-and-fifteen to effective end the game.
Shamir Johnson ran for 47 yards on 15 carries to pace Wabash on offense. Rice ran eight times for 16 yards and finished 15-for-31 for 119 yards with an interception. Page caught six passes for 127 yards.
Connor Ludwig led the Wabash defense with 15 tackles, including 1-1/2 for losses. Evan Hansen added 12 stops and a sack along with 2-1/2 tackles for losses. The Little Giants produces 14 total tackles for losses of 38 yards with two sacks.
Kennedy ran for 44 yards and threw for 165 on 11-of-22 passing. Deshawn Sarley led the ground attack for the Tigers with 46 yards on 18 attempts. Dustin Holmes finished with 22 total tackles.
“We need to recoup,” Morel said. “We still have a bunch of games to play. We need to be ready to play Hiram a week from now.”
The Little Giants (2-1, 1-1 NCAC) travel to Hiram for a 1 p.m. kickoff next Saturday.