ST. LOUIS, Mo. — The only thing that matters is the score on the big board at the far end of a stadium, and at game's end it indicated that the Wittenberg Tigers had pulled out a hard-fought 20-17 victory over host Washington University.
The win moved the 21st-ranked Tigers to 3-0 on the season, heading into their 2011 North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) home opener against Allegheny at 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24 (Watch Live • Listen Live • Live Stats). Washington University had posted a 9-1 record since losing to Wittenberg 37-7 a year ago, but the Bears are now 2-1 on the 2011 season.
Washington outgained the Tigers 298-251, although 26 of those yards came on the game's final play as the Bears tried to cover 95 yards using some trickery. The Tigers forced Washington into that desperate end-of-game scenario thanks in no small part to a sack by sophomore defensive end Josh Montgomery (Reynoldsburg, Ohio/Reynoldsburg), who effectively ended the Bears' previous drive by dropping the quarterback for a nine-yard loss on third-and-10.
Both offenses were held well below their season averages through the first two games of the 2011 season, but the Tigers in particular struggled to sustain drives. After compiling 986 yards in wins over Capital and Ohio Wesleyan, the Tigers saw their production cut almost in half as the Bears seemed to solve the Tigers' vaunted aerial attack. Senior quarterback Ben Zoeller (Louisville, Ky./St. Xavier) posted his second-lowest passing total in 14 career starting assignments, finishing with 139 yards on 15 completions in 27 attempts.
Washington was successful in slowing Zoeller, but the Tigers have plenty of offensive weapons, and sophomore quarterback Reed Florence (South Charleston, Ohio/Southeastern) is developing into one of them. He finished off both of the Tigers' touchdown drives in the game, tossing a four-yard scoring strike to senior Michael Cooper (Springfield, Ohio/South) in the second quarter and a five-yard TD pass to sophomore Brendon Cunningham (Kettering, Ohio/Fairmont) in the fourth. The latter capped a 51-yard, 11-play scoring drive that was set up by a clutch fourth-down stop at midfield by junior defensive tackle Justin Bartlett (Washington, Pa./McGuffie).
Bartlett and Montgomery finished with six tackles each, including one each for loss. Only sophomore safety Mark Swope (Fairborn, Ohio/Fairborn) contributed more stops in the game, totalling eight, including six solos. Also of note, junior cornerback Karlos Marshall (Springfield, Ohio/Springfield) intercepted a pair of Washington passes, including a clutch pick in the second quarter after a Wittenberg fumble had set the Bears up with quality field position.
The Tigers led 10-3 at halftime thanks to the aforementioned touchdown pass and the first of two field goals by junior Sean Williams (Plainfield, Ind./Plainfield) in the first quarter. He added another one in the fourth quarter to give him 13 in a row, dating back to the 2010 season. That broke the school record of 12 straight field goals and kept him perfect on the season in his first five attempts.
After Cunningham's touchdown, the Tigers appeared to have the game in hand, but Washington pulled to within three points on a 30-yard touchdown pass with 4:13 to play. After Wittenberg was forced to punt, the Bears were stopped on their final two possessions.
Four Tiger receivers caught at least four passes for at least 25 yards. The Tigers did get season-high rushing totals from senior tailbacks Conner Warye (Maineville, Ohio/Kings) and Corey Weber (Pataskala, Ohio/Watkins Memorial), who finished with 68 and 54 yards, respectively, on a combined 33 carries.