Little Giants Can't Overcome Mistakesby Jocelyn Hopkinson '15 • November 8, 2014 Share:
The ninth-ranked Wabash football team lost Saturday at Wittenberg in a game that all but decided the North Coast Athletic Conference champion. Penalties and a handful of costly mistakes ruined the Little Giants’ probable title hopes in the 21-15 defeat.
“Our guys played their tails off, but I guess it just wasn’t meant to be,” Coach Erik Raeburn said.
Wabash committed 10 penalties for 107 yards. The Tigers blocked an early punt which led to a touchdown, and they scored on a 58-yard fumble return. Despite the big plays, Wabash had two late chances to take the lead. However, the Little Giants turned over the ball on downs each time inside the 30.
“Our offense played well, we just didn’t come up with the big plays when we needed them,” running back Tyler Holmes ‘14 said. “We had a couple of dropped passes, a couple of wrong reads, and some missed blocks. That’s all there is to it.”
Wittenberg claims at least a share of the NCAC title with the win and the likely conference automatic qualifier for the NCAA tournament. The Little Giants would still be a strong tournament contender, though, with a win in Saturday's 121st Monon Bell Classic.
Wittenberg took an early lead on a short touchdown pass from Zack Jenkins to Corey Stump after the Tigers’ blocked punt. The Little Giants responded with a five-play, 71-yard drive. Michael Putko ’16 capped the drive with a 30-yard scoring pass to Drake Christen ’17, but the extra point was blocked. Later in the first quarter, an Evan Rutter ‘15 safety gave Wabash its first lead of the game, 8-7.
The game’s biggest play occurred in the second quarter. With the Little Giants driving to go up two scores, Dustin Holmes sacked Putko and the quarterback fumbled. Defensive end Dwight Hill scooped up the ball and raced 58 yards for a touchdown, 14-8.
“Obviously you can’t get punts blocked or have the other team score when your defense isn’t on the field,” Raeburn said. “I was proud our guys responded and battled back, but you can’t make those kind of mistakes.”
Again, Wabash answered the mishap. This time, it was with a seven-play, 55-yard drive capped by a Mason Zurek ’16 leap over the goal line to regain the lead, 15-14.
Wittenberg started fast in the second half. The Tigers marched 86 yards in 14 plays to score a touchdown on their first drive. Jenkins found Stump again for a score, this time from seven yards out on an impressive diving catch by the receiver. It was one of the many notable catches Stump made as Wittenberg led 21-15.
Wabash had two chances in the fourth quarter to regain the lead. On a fourth and two at the Wittenberg 15-yard line with 11 minutes left, the Little Giants dropped an open pass over the middle although the umpire unknowingly provided an obstacle for the receiver.
Then with under four minutes to play and a fourth-and-three from the Wittenberg 24, Putko ran around the edge to pick up the first down. However, a holding call negated the conversion and Wabash failed to pick up the fourth-and-long. Putko heaved the ball deep on the Little Giants’ final possession, but overthrew the intended receiver as Wittenberg intercepted the pass to seal the victory.
“We knew coming in to it there would be adversity and we’d have to overcome adversity,” Holmes said. “At the end of the day, we didn’t make enough plays to come out with the W.”
Wabash outrushed Wittenberg 219 yards to 54, and outgained the home team 348 to 211. Holmes had 89 yards on 23 carries and Zurek ran for 116 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries.
Stump finished with five catches for 39 yards and the two scores. Zack Culvahouse made big catches all day for the Tigers — he ended with seven receptions for 95 yards.
Jenkins was 15-of-29 passing for 157 yards and two touchdowns. Putko completed nine-of-21 passes for 102 yards with a touchdown and interception.
The Little Giants played impressively on defense. The high-powered Tiger offense only had one sustained scoring drive. Rutter led the way with nine tackles and three-and-a-half sacks. Safety Austin Brown ’17 also had a nine tackles.
Wabash will have to pick itself up quickly. It returns home next week for the 121st Monon Bell Classic.
“Coach always says we have 24 hours, win or lose, to get over it,” Holmes said. “It’s still obviously a huge game and we can still possibly make the playoffs. This isn’t the end of the world, but at the same time there’s nothing else to say except that it sucks.”
Kickoff will be at 1:07 p.m. Saturday from Byron P. Hollet Little Giant Stadium.