September 7, 2011

Witt builds on family ties

More news about: Wittenberg
Ben Zoeller helped Wittenberg get the milestone victory. 
Wittenberg athletics photo by David Pence 

College football if anything, is tradition. It's ripe with rituals, legends and bonding moments that last for generations.

Football's been a part of Wittenberg since 1892. There are plenty of memories and more than a few heroes to accompany them. When other schools have penned chapters, the Tigers lug their tales around by the volume.

A Saturday evening thunderstorm delayed the Tigers 45-28 victory over Capital until Sunday, joining the 700-win club was inevitable.  Wittenberg's all-time record is 700-347-32, that's a winning percentage of just under 65 percent. The consistency has spanned recessions, depressions, world wars and 22 presidents.

Talk about constant -- the last time the Tigers suffered a losing season was 1955. That fall a newcomer named Johnny Cash was first hitting the charts, Eisenhower was in his first term and in Alabama, Rosa Parks riding in the front of an Alabama bus.

No matter the era, no matter what year, Wittenberg transcends time. Coach Joe Fincham thinks he understands why.

“At small colleges, like ours, all of our current and former players are close knit,” Fincham said. “You can stay close. There is just so much going on at larger schools, you lose track. You don't really have a personal connection. Here graduates can, and do get involved.”

The football fraternity is amazingly supportive, he said. It's more than alums just coming to games or being members of a paid booster club or golf outings. It's like strips on the sleeve to servicemen. The Tiger family is always reaching out. They'll drop a recruit's names to coaches and are frequent visitors to campus, it's an active group.

When players first visit, they may not always know the legends of Wittenberg's fall. At least not beyond the stats and pictures on the wall. The connection will quickly come as the past embraces the present.

“It's easy for me to talk about tradition,” Fincham said. “When we have guys come back to visit, we get them in front of our players, it's huge for everyone.”

Sure its  partly to get the new generations acquainted with what it means to be a Tiger and challenge them to buy into it. But, more importantly it's really a building a family.

As a rookie position coach in 1990, Fincham came to Springfield as an outsider. He felt experienced something different, he still does. “Once I met the alums, it didn't take very long for me to know about Wittenberg and its tradition. These old guys, still take a great deal pride in the program.”

It was was Hall of Fame coach Dave Maurer who sought out Fincham as a newcomer. Under Maurer, Wittenberg won two national titles in 1973 and 1975. The Tigers contended for two more in 1978 and 1979. During his tenure the program was rarely out of first place in the conference. Maurer died in July at the age of 79.

“He wasn't coaching football, but was the golf coach then, believe me, he still had plenty of fire in him. He taught me what it meant to be a Tiger. I didn't play here and I knew being a Tiger was extremely important.”

Of all the lessons he was taught and observed, the one that stands out wasn't about the program building, play-calling or postgame analysis.

“The most important thing he taught me was how to treat people. He was so good with the alumni, he always made people feel special. He made me feel comfortable and welcome.”

Fincham seeks to keep that philosophy alive in his program. He says the Wittenberg team is more than who's listed on in program.

“I think there are sports that can be are a one-man show, an operation where the head coach does it.” Not here, with our program. Football is so unique, my program is just a small piece of it. We have a lot of coaches, a lot of players and it takes and the support of the administration. It's so highly competitive. And let's not forget the campus community. I hope they feel a part of it, because they are.”

With 700 wins, Fincham said it's not hard to keep push and striving. What's your next milestone? “The next game, win 701.” he laughed. “We won a lot of big games, we've also lost a lot of big games. (After the game) We just get focused on the week ahead.”

But, I could be wrong
While No. 22 Trine wasn’t overpowering in its 24-13 win over Manchester, don’t forget this is still a defense-first operation. It’s easily to remember the big scores and 400-plus yard games that were orchestrated by an all-American signal-caller, this is a defensive unit that traditionally makes things happen, including forcing four turnovers. Thursday, it scored on an interception and a fumble; it also was set up nicely by another interception.

If you gain more than 320 yards, compile 26 first downs, hold the ball more than 32 minutes and convert on 6-of-16 third downs you typically win, correct? Well, Saturday in Baldwin-Wallace blanked the College of Wooster which had those exact numbers. B-W had 16 first downs, 329 offensive yards and 2-of-10 on third down.

Top performances from the region
In is his first start, Adrian's Brandon Miller connected on 16 of 23 passes for 320 yard and four touchdowns before being lifted in Adrian's 77-7 win over Husson. The Bulldogs also set a program record for points scored.

Kirby Harris of Marietta hauled in 11 receptions for 116 yards and three touchdowns in a 32-24 over Thiel.

Joe Powell scored on a 41 yard interception return in Ohio Northern's 38-20 win over North Carolina Wesleyan. The junior linebacker also had a fumble recovery and eight tackles.

Mike Page of Kalamazoo had 13 stops, including a sack in a 39-14 Hornet win over Bluffton.

Olivet fell to Cornell 36-35, as the Comets' losing streak grows to 28 games. The silver lining, James Williams had a pair of special teams touchdowns: a 90-yard kickoff return and a 65-yard punt return. He finished with 238 all-purpose yards and three total touchdowns.

Linebacker Ryan Ferguson collected nine tackles, returned an interception 57 yards for touchdown and a fumble 32 yards for another score for in Case Western Reserve’s 27-17 win over John Carroll. Teammate Manny Sicre, in his first college appearance rushed for 172 yards on 16 carries.  John Carroll quarterback Devin O’Brien connected on 22-of-34 passes for 275 yards a two touchdowns in the loss.

DePauw's Ethan Schweir completed 29-of-42 passes for 276 yards in a 23-13 win over Rose-Hulman. Taylor Wagner totaled 174 all-purpose yards as a receiver and a return man.

Germany Woods led Heidelberg to a 34-28 overtime victory over Alma. Woods rushed for 174 yards and a touchdown.  Michael Mees, a freshman, was 21-of-40 for 275 yards and four touchdowns for the Student Princes.

Capital's Ryan Williams had 11 receptions for 120 yards in their 45-28 loss to Wittenberg.

Geneva's Zack Hayward threw for 2 touchdowns and completed 23-of-42 passes for 299 yards. A.J. Delmonico nabbed eight passes for 108 yards in a 34-21 loss to Frostburg State.

Josh Mandel completed 26 of 36 passes for 322 yards, including four touchdowns in Oberlin's 42-0 victory over Kenyon.

Matt Bliss was 19-of-28 including three touchdowns to complete a 286 yard performance for the Washington and Jefferson. Alex Baroffio had 133 yards and seven receptions in that game in the President's 40-0 win over Juniata.

Otterbein signal caller Austin Schlosser threw for 271 yards and three touchdowns in a 28-27 overtime win over Gallaudet. Cardinal teammate Trey Fairchild was a prime target of those aerials, he tallied 196 yards receiving on eight passes, two were touchdowns.

Great Lakes Region Teams in D3football.com’s Top 25 Poll This Week
No. 2 Mount Union (OAC)-did not play, holding steady.
No. 10 Thomas More (PAC)-Down one spot, but didn't play
No. 13 Ohio Northern (OAC)-Up one spot with a 38-20 win over North Carolina Wesleyan
No. 18 Wabash (NCAC)-Up one spot, did not play
No. 19 Wittenberg (NCAC)-It took two days, but the Tigers beat Capital 45-28, but are they are up one slot.
No. 21 Franklin (HCAC)-Jumps up three spots with a 49-35 win at Valparaiso (D-I FCS non-scholarship)
No. 22 Trine (MIAA) Drops one spot following a 24-13 win over Manchester

Others receiving votes: Baldwin-Wallace (OAC), Washington and Jefferson (PAC), Adrian (MIAA)

Games of the Week
Albion (0-1, 0-0 MIAA) at No. 8 Wheaton (0-0, 0-0 CCIW) 8 p.m., Central:
Give the Britons credit they aren't ducking anyone. It's the season opener for the Thunder and Albion will be fired up after a loss to Butler (D-I FCS non-scholarship). Against a comparable rival, we'll see just how good AC is.

Washington and Jefferson (1-0, 0-0 PAC) at Delaware Valley (1-0, 0-0 MAC) 1:30 p.m., Eastern: Lots of story lines here. Both teams are just outside the Top 25 and qualified for the playoffs in 2010. This game is also part of the PAC-MAC Challenge Series. W&J rolled in a Week 1 win against Juniata 40-0, the Aggies eeked out a 10-9 win over Muhlenberg.

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Brian Lester

Brian Lester is a reporter in Findlay, Ohio. He has 14 years of experience at newspapers in Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio, spending the last 10 at The Courier in Findlay. Lester also writes an Around the Region column for D3hoops.com. He is a graduate of Eastern Illinois and lives in Ottawa with his wife and daughter.

2011 columnist: Dean Jackson
2007-10 columnist: Matt Florjancic

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