MEADVILLE, Pa. – Behind a 21-point third quarter, nationally-ranked No. 23 Wittenberg dealt Allegheny its first conference loss of the season in a 35-6 victory at Frank B. Fuhrer Field on Saturday. The Tigers piled up 542 yards of total offense and converted two interceptions into touchdowns in winning their fourth straight game in the series.
In addition to a disappointing loss that pushed the Gators into a three-way tie for second place in the North Coast Athletic Conference, Allegheny (4-3, 3-1 NCAC) suffered another devastating injury in a season that is starting to be defined by mounting losses in personnel. Senior punter Ryan Schroth was carted off the field in the third quarter following a blocked punt. Schroth had enjoyed another strong day up to that point, placing all five of his kicks inside the Wittenberg 20, including two punts downed at the one-yard line.
Starting the ensuing drive at the Allegheny six, the Tigers eventually punched it in on a one-yard run by JaVanh Sanders to move ahead, 35-0, with just over one minute left in the third quarter.
Wittenberg (6-1, 3-1 NCAC) proved to be opportunistic all afternoon. The Tigers opened the scoring with 10:03 remaining in the first quarter on a four-yard run by Reed Florence. The drive, which covered 51 yards, started after Allegheny's Mike Person was picked off during the game's opening series. The Tigers doubled their advantage with a tremendous nine-play, 96-yard drive early in the second quarter, although Allegheny kept Wittenberg off the board for the rest of the half.
The Tigers scored on all three of their drives in the third quarter to pull away in the key league tilt. The first score, which ended with a 20-yard reception by Desi Kirkman, capped a 13-play, 79-yard drive. The Tigers' next touchdown was set up by the defense's second interception of the game, while the punt block triggered the team's final score.
Behind back-up quarterback Joe Dawida, Allegheny avoided the shutout as the Gators scored a touchdown with just under five minutes left in regulation. Going 3-for-4 on the Gators' final possession of the afternoon, Dawida hooked up with rookie Ben Tarcson in the corner of the end zone. The beautiful over-the-shoulder catch marked Tarcson's first career touchdown as well as Dawida's first career touchdown pass.
Dawida finished 8-of-10 for 70 yards after entering the game late in the third quarter.
Joel DeFelice, who became the sixth Allegheny player this season to start at tail back, averaged a whopping 10.9 yards per carry after totaling 87 yards on eight totes. Sophomore wideout Andrew Niklaus hauled in a career-high seven receptions for 46 yards, while Tarcson caught a career-best five balls for 53 yards.
The star of Saturday's battle was Florence. Entering the game among the nation's leaders in passer efficiency, Florence was 18-of-29 for 263 yards, the most yards Allegheny's pass defense had allowed all season. In addition, Florence rushed for a game-high 99 yards as the Tigers gashed the Gators' run defense for a season-high 269 yards.