Story and photo courtesy of Hobart Athletics
GENEVA, N.Y. - Seventh-ranked Hobart College ran for 286 yards and five touchdowns while limiting No. 13/24 Wittenberg University to a season-low 135 yards of total offense as the Statesmen advanced to the third round of the NCAA Division III Football Championship by a score of 35-10 on Boswell Field today.
In blustery and at times snowy conditions, Hobart (12-0) kept the ball on the ground and dominated time of possession (39:02-20:58). Junior running back Steven Webb produced his fourth 100-yard rushing game of the season with 130 yards on 19 carries. Senior tailback Bobby Dougherty added 85 yards on 20 carries. The Statesmen completed only five passes (on 11 attempts) for 75 yards. Senior wideout Junior Woodard had two catches for 41 yards and sophomore tight end Mike Berkowitz caught two passes for 38 yards.
On defense, senior linebacker Andrew Klindera made a team-high eight tackles and forced a fumble and sophomore defensive end Tyre Coleman registered seven tackles, including four for a loss with a pair of sacks.
The Tigers (10-2) came into the game 21st in the nation in passing efficiency, but managed just 109 yards through the air, less than half of their season average (259.2 yds/g). Junior quarterback Reed Florence was 13-of-28 for 109 yards and was picked off once and sacked three times. Junior wideout Desi Kirkman was his top target with five receptions for 33 yards. Junior running back JaVanh Sanders ran for 47 yards and a touchdown and caught four passes for 35 yards.
A low snap and short punt by Hobart set up the first scoring drive of the game. Wittenberg took over at the Hobart 20. Four plays later, the Tigers missed a 35-yard field goal attempt into a strong wind, but a running into the kicker penalty gave the visitors a do-over. This time Sean Williams’ 30-yard attempt was good for a 3-0 lead late in the first quarter.
Before the end of the opening frame, the Statesmen found themselves in good field position after sophomore Jacob Price blocked a Wittenberg punt that Hobart recovered at the Wittenberg 10. The Statesmen couldn’t cash in however, fumbling a handoff on the very next play.
The Statesmen took the lead midway through the second quarter when Nick Strang broke free for a 30-yard touchdown run that capped off a 6-play, 71-yard drive. First-year James Hull’s PAT gave Hobart a 7-3 lead that carried over into halftime.
The Statesmen used a little razzle dazzle to open the second half. On the first play from scrimmage, sophomore quarterback Patrick Conlan took a pitch on a fake reverse and completed a 30-yard pass to Woodard, who has caught at least one pass in 32 consecutive games, matching the Hobart record. Eight plays later, sophomore fullback Dominique Ellis bulled his way into the end zone from 1-yard out for a 14-3 lead.
The Tigers answered with a 6-play, 60-yard drive that Sanders finished off with a 3-yard run. The extra point made it a 14-10 Hobart lead.
The Statesmen were forced to punt on their next possession, but Wittenberg muffed the return and junior Tom Elder dove on the loose ball to set Hobart up at the Tigers’ 23. Seven play later, the Statesmen attempted a 28-yard field goal, but a bad snap gave the defense just enough time to break through the line and block the kick.
Hobart regained the momentum thanks to Coleman’s second sack. As he closed in on Florence on a third and 16 play, Coleman swatted the ball out of his hand. Junior defensive tackle Cory Einbeck recovered the fumble to set the offense up at the Wittenberg 17.
Two plays later, senior quarterback Kelly Olney scored on a 12-yard sweep right, scoring on a dive at the pylon. Hull’s extra point put the Statesmen up 21-10.
The Tigers scored 32-unanswered points in the first round of the playoffs to wipe out a 22-point deficit and knock off Heidelberg, but there would be no rally today. Hobart’s defense forced Wittenberg to go three and out on its first two fourth quarter drives and junior corner back Kevin Hearon ended the Tigers’ final possession with an interception at the Statesmen 35 and a 16-yard return.
Meanwhile, Hobart used a 7-play, 56-yard drive to go up 28-10 thanks to Dougherty’s 2-yard plunge. The touchdown was his 19th rushing TD of the year, tying the Statesmen season record set by Don Aleksiewicz ’73 in 1971. Webb closed out the day’s scoring on the next Hobart drive with a spectacular 57-yard run that went from sideline to sideline and included at least one would-be tackler getting hurdled.
The Statesmen will face St. Thomas in the third round at noon on Saturday, Dec. 1. The fourth-ranked Tommies defeated No. 17 Elmhurst 24-17. The NCAA Football Committee will announce the host teams for the third round tomorrow.