MEADVILLE, Pa. – Nationally-ranked No. 6 Wittenberg remained unbeaten in the 2010 campaign after escaping with a 24-21 victory against Allegheny College at Frank B. Fuhrer Field on Saturday. Trailing 14-10 heading into the fourth quarter, the Tigers scored touchdowns on back-to-back possessions before hanging on for the tough conference win.
After outscoring its first three opponents, 137-13, Wittenberg (4-0, 2-0 NCAC) faced a stiff test in North Coast Athletic Conference foe Allegheny. The Gators (2-1, 0-1 NCAC) showed a tremendous amount of poise against one of the nation's top teams, although the Tigers capitalized on a few key plays to clinch their fourth consecutive victory to start the season.
One of the game's defining moments occurred with just under 14 minutes left in regulation. Facing a third-and-22 from the Allegheny 40, junior signal caller Ben Zoeller eluded a near-sack before connecting with third-year wideout Michael Cooper for a 33-yard completion to set up the Tigers' go-ahead score. Zoeller dashed into the end zone from seven yards out on the next play to push Wittenberg in front, 17-14.
Zoeller displayed similar magic on the Tigers' next series, turning another near-sack on a third-and-12 into a 20-yard reception to Josh McKee. Three plays later, McKee made a spectacular catch at the back of the end zone to give Wittenberg a 10-point cushion mid-way through the final frame.
Allegheny senior quarterback T.J. Salopek brought the Gators back to life by orchestrating a superb drive on the ensuing series. Finishing 5-of-5 for 63 yards on the drive, Salopek methodically drove Allegheny down the field by targeting five different receivers. With first-and-goal from the Tiger two, fullback David Tate punched in his second score of the day to slice the deficit to three.
Wittenberg took over possession with four minutes left on the clock, although Allegheny's stout defensive forced a three-and-out, while giving the Gators one last chance to steal the victory.
Senior Trevor Cochran made an outstanding play on the punt, pinning Allegheny inside its own three yard-line with 2:38 remaining. Despite the poor field position, Salopek completed four straight passes, including a pair to David Strawser and a pair to tight end Robert Carlisle that gave Allegheny first-and-10 near mid-field. Down to the final minute of regulation, Wittenberg showcased its own defensive muscle by forcing two incompletions and a tackle for loss. With the game hanging in the balance, Allegheny's fourth-down attempt faltered as the Wittenberg rush forced Salopek out of the pocket and out of bounds on the near sideline, six yards short of the first-down marker.
Allegheny outgained Wittenberg, 295-288, although nearly every total was even. Salopek, who finished 19-of-29 for 177 yards with one touchdown and two picks, was sacked four times on the afternoon. Zoeller completed 10-of-15 for 170 yards while throwing one touchdown and one interception.
Senior Corey Webber rushed for a game-best 96 yards and a score on 20 carries, while Allegheny's Brian Tamburlin finished with 75 yards on 14 rushes. McKee, who set a plethora of offensive records in Wittenberg's victory over Washington University, made five catches and closed with 116 yards receiving. Carlisle hauled in a season-high eight catches and a touchdown for Allegheny.
Wittenberg opened the battle with a quick score as Weber broke through a hole on the right side from 26 yards out on a fourth-and-one on the game's opening drive. Although the Tigers scored on their opening series for the fourth consecutive game, the Allegheny defensive tightened up by stopping two fourth-and-one attempts over the next quarter of play. Sid Facaros' third interception of the year set up Allegheny's first score of the day. A completion to senior Terry Hartford put Allegheny inside the Wittenberg 10, while Tate dove across the goal-line from one-yard out.
A two-yard pass by Salopek to Carlisle with three minutes left in the third quarter, capped a 13-play, 74-yard drive which dealt Wittenberg its first deficit of the season at 14-10.