Little Giants Stay In Battle for NCAC Championship

by Howard W. Hewitt

October 28, 2006

A stifling wind and 10-point deficit wasn’t enough to keep the Wabash College Little Giants from holding serve atop the logjam in the NCAC conference battle Saturday. The Little Giants scored 20 unanswered points to knock off co-leader Wooster, 20-10.

Saturday afternoon’s beautiful, sunny skies were accompanied by strong winds that occasionally reached gusts of 30-40 mph. Wooster capitalized at the game’s outset and seized control with two scores.

But the Wabash defense stepped up and played arguably its best game of the year, holding Wooster to just 160 total yards of offense on 64 rushing and 96 passing and just 10 first downs. (See full offense photo album here. See pictures of Wabash's defensive play here.)

"We held Wooster College to 10 points," Wabash coach Chris Creighton said. "Our defense that was young is not young any more; they’re playing good football in big games. I’m real proud of our defense."

And it was defense that turned the tide. Creighton elected to go into the wind in the first quarter and the decision immediately back-fired. On the third play from scrimmage, Dustin Huff’s pass was intercepted by Jeff Geffert setting up the Scots at the Wabash 25-yard line. It took just four plays and a Dustin Sheppard 6-yard run to put Wooster on top with just under three minutes off the clock.

Wabash could do nothing on its next possession forcing a punt that traveled only 13 yards and giving the ball to Wooster on the 34. The Scots moved the ball to first-and-goal but the Little Giant defense came up with a staunch goal-line stand. The key play was Andy Deig’s stop on Sheppard on second down and goal from the one-yard line. On third down a pass fell incomplete and Wooster had to settle for a Dan Grangaard 18-yard field goal, 10-0.

"That series they got the ball and moved it to the five was really big," Deig said. "Once we made that big stop we knew we were going to win. I knew we’d come back and fight."

The first half struggle was far from over, but Wabash managed to move the ball down field and get on the board before halftime. Dustin Huff went to the air and moved the Little Giants 62 yards in 12 plays then took the ball in himself on a one-yard keeper to get Wabash on the board, 10-6, but the kick was wide and the half ended.

The wind was on everyone’s mind at halftime.

"At half we were going to go with the wind in the third quarter and we got out here and Coach changed his mind at the last minute," Deig said afterwards. "It turned out to be a very good decision and we got the score when they had the wind. The wind was a big factor today for the team on offense."

Despite the wind advantage the Scots could only gain 13 yards in 6 plays and had to punt. The next two series were the clincher for the Little Giants. Wabash marched the ball down field 59 yards on eight plays to the Wooster 18. But Geffert again picked off a Wabash pass and raced 79 yards to put Wooster on the Wabash 29.

The Little Giant defense was up to the challenge and was aided by an intentional grounding call against the Scots. Wooster had to settle for a 33-yard field goal attempt that was short and wide.

Not being frustrated by the previous series’ outcome, Huff went back to work. The Wabash quarterback hit Billy King for nine yards, Mike Russell for 35 more, and then Andrew Rode for 33 yards. Shane Keffer picked up the touchdown from one yard out and the Little Giants were on top, 13-10.

Wabash managed to hold Wooster with the wind advantage and score the go-ahead touchdown.

"The halftime decision was in my mind a really big decision and I really kind of went back and forth on it," Creighton explained. "When you’re down, you want to try to get momentum but at same time in a tight game it’s always good to have the wind in the fourth quarter. My gut told me I made the wrong decision at the beginning of the game. It takes a lot to give up the ball at the beginning of both halves."

After Wabash took the lead, the defense tightened even more. Wooster picked up a rare second half first down but had to punt three plays and a penalty later. The Wabash offense took the field with confidence to open the fourth quarter.

Huff directed a 12-play, 80-yard drive that was capped by an 18-yard strike to Rode for a touchdown. The sophomore wide receiver had his second big week in a row since stepping in for senior Geoff Walker, who is out for the season. Rode led the Little Giants with six catches for 87 yards.

Despite two interceptions, Huff had an efficient day, hitting on 22-of 32 passes for 281 yards. He also rushed for 61 and a touchdown.

Deig paced the defense with 10 tackles, several came on key plays. Adi Pynenberg added nine stops. Frank Knez had a huge day with three of the Little Giants’ five quarterback sacks.

"In the off season we thought this was going to be a conference championship game, but after the loss to Witt, we weren’t sure if that was going to be true," Deig said. "But it turned out there was a lot of truth to that. We had a rough start, but after that we really brought it and the offense got it done."

Wittenberg won at Oberlin, 22-6, to remain tied atop the NCAC standings. Denison knocked off Kenyon to remove the Lords from title contention. Wittenberg holds the tie-breaker for the playoff birth with its win over Wabash October 14. But next week could be pivotal in the conference standings — Wittenberg plays Allegheny at home while Wabash travels to Denison.

Homepage phot Andy Deig makes a key first-quarter stop that helped turn the game's momentum.


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