SPRINGFIELD, Ohio - Playing their first NCAA Division III Tournament game on their home field since 2009, the Wittenberg Tigers turned in a dominating performance in a 59-17 victory over Lebanon Valley.
Wittenberg is now a perfect 7-0 in NCAA Division III Tournament first round games at historic Edwards-Maurer Field and 13-3 in the opening round of the national competition overall. The game was a first for Lebanon Valley, which was making its debut in NCAA Division III Tournament play.
The Tigers were efficient on offense from the outset, driving 75 yards in six plays on their opening drive to set the tone for the day. Wittenberg was not forced to punt in the game, scoring on nine of 10 possessions while piling up 600 yards of total offense.
Wittenberg did most of its damage through the air, repeatedly striking for big plays. Senior quarterback Reed Florence averaged nearly 23 yards per completion, connecting on 15-of-21 passes for 344 yards and a school record-tying six touchdowns.
Four of his scoring strikes went to senior wide receiver Desi Kirkman, covering 35, 65, 41 and 24 yards. In addition to his 188 yards on five receptions, Kirkman tacked on a school record 90-yard punt return for a touchdown.
Senior wideout Brendon Cunningham contributed three catches for 79 yards and a touchdown and sophomore running back Jimmy Dehnke rounded out the aerial attack with a 15-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter. The Tigers' scoring was capped by a third quarter field goal by sophomore kicker Evan Grissom and a 24-yard touchdown run by sophomore quarterback Zack Jenkins in the waning moments.
While Florence, who was named the North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) Offensive Player of the Year earlier in the week, led a tremendous passing attack, the Tigers exhibited their usual balance with 256 yards on the ground. Sophomore tailback Sean Gary led the way with 84 yards on 16 carries.
Lebanon Valley finished with 358 yards of total offense, with the Dutchmen scoring a field goal on their first drive before falling into an insurmountable 38-3 hole by halftime. LVC added a pair of second-half touchdown passes by Brian Murphy to wide receivers Joey Miller and Tyler George.
Wittenberg's defense registered just one tackle for loss in the game, but the Tigers allowed just four plays of more than 20 yards. Senior cornerback Victor Banjo and sophomore cornerback Ryan Myers finished with three pass break-ups apiece, while senior linebacker Spencer Leno led the Tigers with eight tackles, including a sack.
The win moved the Tigers, who improved to 10-1 on the season, into the NCAA Division III Round of 16 for the third time in the last five years. Wittenberg will take on No. 1 ranked Mount Union, which beat the Tigers in the national tournament three times in four seasons between 1998 and 2001.
Lebanon Valley, the champion of the Middle Atlantic Conference, saw its season come to a close with a record of 8-3.