Wittenberg falls to Butler 22-16 in Opener; Remains Poised for Season
With time winding down, the Tiger faithful standing prepared to erupt, Zach Jenkins’ 49th attempt of the night sailed over his intended target and fell into enemy hands. The pick ended the Tigers’ comeback attempt against Saturday night’s Division One opponent.
The Tiger began their season on Saturday with 22-16 loss to the Horizon League’s Butler Bulldogs. This year, Wittenberg will look to defend NCAC title and return to the Division Three Playoffs, where last year they were ousted in the quarterfinal by perennial power Mount Union. The Tigers will have to accomplish these goals with a new cast of characters, as many of last year’s stars have been lost to graduation.
Both offenses got off to a slow start in the season opener, as stingy defense became the story of the first half. The only scoring in the first half was a Butler safety, which came after a dramatic fourth goal line stand for the Tigers. The Wittenberg offense began to find rhythm in the second quarter after putting together two nice drives that yielded no points in their last two possessions of the first half. The Tigers broke through with an 80-yard drive that ended in a field goal. The Tigers’ lead proved to be short lived, as Bulldog receiver Sam Scrhrader snagged a reception on a crossing route over the middle, broke a tackle, and was off to the end zone on the Bulldogs’ first play from scrimmage in the second half.
The Bulldogs locked to be pulling away, building a 22-3 lead over the Tigers in the third quarter, but the Wittenberg offense pulled them back in the game. The offense was led by the combination of juniors Zach Jenkins and Zach Culvahouse. Jenkins was able to pass to Culvahouse 14 times ( a new Tiger record for receptions in a game), including twice in the end zone. Culvahouse’s first touchdown grab came with 14 minutes left in the game to make it a two score game. Tiger momentum continued to build as Evan Killilea intercepted a pass on the very next Bulldog play to set up a second scoring drive, capped off by the second Culvahouse touchdown. This ended the scoring for the night. 22-16 was the final score. Jenkins second interception of the night with 33 seconds left proved to be the dagger for the Wittenberg upset hopes.
The Jenkins – Culvahouse combinations looks to replace a lot of loss in the passing game, as the Tigers lost three year starter at quarterback Reed Florence and dynamic receiving duo of Cunningham and Krikman. The Tigers brought last year’s leading rusher Sean Grey, who added 76 yards on the ground against Butler.
On the other side of the ball, the Tigers have brought back a staunch defense that was able to hold Butler to 16 first downs, which is posed to stifle DIII offenses. Senior linebacker Killilea and Nick Gibson are both coming off a 2013 campaign in which they registered more than 70 total tackles. On Saturday, the defense was lead by Winston Thomas, who recorded 10. The secondary will be led by senior Victor Banjo, who was out of action on Saturday due to injury. The dynamic speedster is also posed to take over punt and kick return duties for Desimond Kirkman.