For the second straight year, the Wittenberg Tigers ambushed the Capital Crusaders in the season opener. A year after becoming the first non-Division I program to reach 700 all-time victories with a 45-28 win in Springfield, the Tigers turned the trick again with a 44-17 win on Capital's home field.
Wittenberg jumped out to a 30-3 lead by halftime and never looked back in the 2012 edition of the rivalry. The Tigers, who forced six Capital turnovers while racking up 475 yards of total offense, have now won 30 of 37 all-time meetings between the two Central Ohio Lutheran universities.
In his first collegiate start, junior quarterback Reed Florence (Springfield, Ohio/Southeastern) threw for 320 yards, easily a career high. He tossed a pair of touchdown passes and scored two more touchdowns on the ground, although he was intercepted three times by the Crusaders.
A fast start made all the difference, as Florence completed all four of his passes on Wittenberg's opening possession before finishing the drive with a one-yard touchdown plunge.
"We had our first 10 plays set out for us, and we went over them about 30 times during the week," Florence said. "We executed just perfectly on each play."
The momentum carried throughout the first half, even after the Crusaders responded to the Tigers' first score with a field goal. Florence capped an 11-play, 68-yard drive near the end of the first quarter with a two-yard scoring run, and then senior kicker Sean Williams (Plainfield, Ind./Plainfield) added a 20-yard field goal. The barrage continued with a 41-yard scoring strike from Florence to junior wide receiver Jonathan Stoner (Bowling Green, Ohio/Bowling Green) and the first career touchdown from senior wide receiver Ethan Sharpin (Springfield, Ohio/Kenton Ridge), who picked up a blocked punt by junior cornerback Victor Banjo (Sugarland, Texas/Stephen F. Austin) and returned it 11 yards for the score.
Wittenberg stretched the lead to 37-3 with a five-yard connection between Florence and junior tight end Stephen Zumdick (Erlanger, Ky./Dixie Heights) in the third quarter. After Capital scored the next 14 points, the Tigers put the finishing touches on things with a 20-yard touchdown run by freshman tailback Jimmy Dehnke (Canton, Ohio/Massillon Jackson).
Dehnke finished with 67 yards on 17 carries, while junior JaVanh Sanders (Las Vegas, Nev./Centennial) chipped in with 16 rushes for 45 yards. Through the air, junior Brendon Cunningham (Kettering, Ohio/Fairmont) was Florence's favorite target with 102 yards on five receptions. Junior Desi Kirkman (Lima, Ohio/Catholic Central) added three catches for 73 yards.
Defensively, Wittenberg was paced by junior linebacker Evan Killilea (Columbus, Ohio/DeSales) with nine tackles, including two for loss and a sack, which forced a fourth-quarter fumble by the Crusaders. Sophomore linebacker Nick Gibson (Marysville, Ohio/Fairbanks) added seven tackles and a pass broken up. Fumbles were recovered by senior defensive end Jon Daniels (Springfield, Ohio/South) and junior linebacker Erick Collins (Springfield, Ohio/Springfield), while Banjo, senior cornerback Karlos Marshall (Springfield, Ohio/Springfield) and senior cornerback Jamaal Everett (Kettering, Ohio/Fairmont) all intercepted passes in the game.
The Crusaders were limited to 267 yards of total offense, including just 77 through the air for a team that finished in the top 30 nationally in passing in 2011.
"To come out of the gates and play the way we did, I couldn't be more pleased," said Head Coach Joe Fincham. "Considering how many first-time starters we have, especially the guys who are handling the football, we played very well."
The Tigers have a week off before opening North Coast Athletic Conference action with home date against DePauw. First kick is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 15, at Edwards-Maurer Field.