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Wabash College football coach Don Morel is quickly becoming the Gambler of North Coast Athletic Conference coaches. With NCAC rival Wittenberg University gaining all the momentum and nearly overcoming a 17-0 deficit, Morel made a gutsy call similar to two years ago against DePauw when he called two fake punts which were instrumental in bringing the Monon Bell back to Crawfordsville.
After dominating the Tigers the entire first half, Wittenberg came back with touchdowns in the third and early in the fourth quarter to make the score 17-13 with 13:30 left in the game. All the momentum belonged to the Tigers.
The two rivals next traded possessions. With 7:51 left on the clock Wabash started a drive on their own 24-yard line. On the first play senior running back Isaac Avant torched the middle of the Tiger defense on a 69-yard scamper . A penalty on Wittenberg at the end of the big run placed the ball on the Tiger 3-yard line. The Tiger defense stiffened and the Little Giants found themselves facing a fourth down on the two-yard line. A field goal would have put Wabash up by seven points, but Morel wanted more.
After a timeout, Wabash freshman quarterback Liam Thompson rolled out to the left looking to pass. He froze the defenders with several pump fakes. Not finding an open receiver, Thompson ducked his head and ran the ball into the end zone. After a successful extra point attempt, Wabash led 24-13 putting the Tigers in a large hole.
Morel said he never once considered kicking a field goal.
“I think fortune favors the bold and that is one of my favorite statements,” he said. “We were not going to kick the field goal. We wanted to win the game.”
The bold call seemed to take a lot of steam out of the Wittenberg sidelines and suddenly Wabash had momentum on their side.
Wabash cornerback Kam Ferguson recorded his second interception in the game. Thompson dove in from the two yard line to cap off a 35-yard drive to make the final score 31-13.
Ferguson Changes Game
Besides Wabash’s Ferguson key interception that set up the Little Giant drive that sealed the victory, Ferguson had recorded his first interception with 9:05 in the third quarter as he was falling into the end zone stopping a Wittenberg drive.
The lanky sophomore credited his coaches for the defensive gems.
“I was just trusting this game that our coach put out there,” Ferguson said. “Everybody came out and made plays when we needed to today.”
Avant Answers The Bell
With Wabash leading rusher Ike James hobbled from an injury sustained earlier in the season, the Little Giants turned to Isaac Avant to carry the load of the rushing game. Avant responded by gaining 159 yards on 25 carries. He also caught three receptions for 66 yards giving him 225 all-purpose yards.
“Last year a lot of running backs got hurt and I had to play a lot. So today I was ready for the task,” Avant said.
James’ injury was not the only one for the Little Giants. Morel said his team started four freshmen on offense, two of which were forced to play due to injuries to starters.
“We had young guys step up and make plays today,” Morel said. “That makes 31 points against Wittenberg even more amazing.”
Little Giants in the driver’s seat
Despite having one loss in the NCAC, Wabash still can claim the conference’s automatic bid to the D3 playoffs. If the Little Giants can win their last four games, they will earn the bid due to the head-to-head tiebreaker with the other one-loss teams (Wittenberg, Denison and Ohio Wesleyan). Going into Saturday’s games, the next three teams on Wabash’s schedule had a combined record of 0-15. Then of course, there is that game in Greencastle to close out the regular season.
Wabash 31, Wittenberg 13
Wittenberg 0 0 7 6 – 13
Wabash 0 17 0 14 – 31
Scoring by quarters
Wab- Cooper Sullivan 13 yd pass from Liam Thompson (Jacob Handley kick), 14:53
Wab- Mason Durrett 8 yd pass from Thompson (Handley kick), 8:26
Wab- Schuler Nehrig 23 yd field goal, 2:57
Wit- DeShawn Sarley 14 yd run, (Nick Bowman kick), 11:51
Wit- Thad Snodgrass 1 yd pass from Bobby Froehlich, (Bowman kick), 13:30
Wab- Thompson 2 yd run, (Handley kick), 5:18
Wab- Thompson 1 yd run, (Handley kick), 2:28
Team Statistics Wit Wab
First Downs 19 17
Att./Rushing 35/200 43/192
Passing 184 154
Total yards 384 346
Turnovers 3 0
Penalties 6-69 4-35
Rushing: Wit- Jaheem Washington 26-163. DeShawn Sarley 4-21, Bobby Froehlich 5-29. Wab Isaac Avant 25-159, Lian Thompson 13-67, Ike James 2-1.
Passing: Wit- Froehlich 17-31-3 184. Wabash- Thompson 11-17-0 146, Heisman Skeens 1-1-0 8.
Receiving: Wit- Washington 5-36, Thad Snodgrass 4-36, Sam Kayser 3-20, Sarley 2-30, Tim Woodrum 1-41, Gene Nobles 1-11, Froehlich 1-10. Wab- Avant 3-66, Cooper Sullivan 3-33, Ivan Martinez 2-25, Mason Durrett 1-18, Skeens 1-6, Reis Thomas 1-5.