NCAA Division-III Playoffs: Thomas More vs. Wittenberg
The No. 14 Thomas More Saints welcome the No. 20 ranked Wittenberg Tigers on Saturday in the first round of the NCAA Division-III football playoffs. Thomas More were the winners of the Presidents’ Athletic Conference (PAC), going 8-0 in the conference and 9-1 overall. Wittenberg supplanted Wabash as the North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) champions, going 8-1 in the conference and 9-1 overall.
How They Got Here:
The Thomas More Saints began the season losing at Franklin 43-39. They then rolled in the final nine contests, putting up at least 30-points in all but one of those contests. That included a 35-9 victory over Washington and Jefferson, a crushing of Grove City, 70-20, and a season ending thumping of Thiel, 63-16. The Saints won by at least 23 in all but two of the games during their nine-game win streak.
Wittenberg opened up with a five-game win streak. That included a 24-14 victory over Wabash, last season’s NCAC champions. They then lost at Denison, 24-21, on October 15, before winning the last four games of the season. In those four victories, the Tigers outscored their opponents 184-28. It was truly a dominating end to the season.
Thomas More: 42.8 PPG, 272.1 Rushing/Game, 245.8 Passing/Game, 517.9 Yards/Game
Wittenberg: 35.8 PPG, 193.1 Rushing/Game, 224.1 Passing/Game, 417.2 Yards/Game
Thomas More: 18.4 PPG, 101.6 Rushing/Game, 239.6 Passing/Game, 341.2 Yards/Game
Wittenberg: 9.6 PPG, 69.6 Rushing/Game, 241.0 Passing/Game, 310.6 Yards/Game
Players to Watch
With the Tigers having such an outstanding run defense, the play of Saints QB Brenan Kuntz will be crucial. He threw for 2,396-yards and 25-touchdowns this season with only 4-interceptions and he must play mistake free football. There are two outstanding running backs for Thomas More with CT Tarrant and Hjavier Pitts. Tarrant rushed for 1,064-yards and 16-touchdowns and Pitts had 740-yards and 6-scores. Kuntz added 367-yards and 3-touchdowns rushing. Daylin Garland is the go to guy in the receiving corps, making 51-catches for 875-yards and 11-scores.
Tre Tunstill is an outstanding linebacker who can do it all. He led the team with 81-tackles, and recorded 2-sacks and 3-interceptions. Dustin Mitchell and Cam Hansel led the team with 5-sacks each and Austin Copeland, Brandon Neal, and Steven Everson were tied for the team lead in interceptions with 3.
Wittenberg is led by sophomore quarterback Jake Kennedy, who passed for 2,059-yards and 18-touchdowns. He completed 60.7 percent of his passes. The Tigers have a three-headed monster in the running game led by a trio of underclassmen. Sophomore Deshawn Sarley leads the team with 679-yards rushing and is tied with Kennedy for the team lead in rushing touchdowns with 7. Nick Kendall was second on the team with 494-yards and Kennedy added 489. A pair of Lukes, Bowling and Landis, were tied for the team lead in receptions with 48. Landis is the deep threat, scoring 9-touchdowns and averaging 15.7 yards per catch.
The linebacker group for the Tigers is absolutely outstanding. Terrance Crowe led the team with 104-tackles, added 4-sacks and a pick. Dustin Holmes was second with 90-tackles, and added 2-interceptions and 2-sacks. Jack Kayser had 81-tackles and 2-sacks. This is a dynamic group that works together as well as any group in the country.
This should be a great game that can be won by either team. Both teams have outstanding quarterbacks and the defenses are stellar as well. The Wittenberg Tigers group is just incredibly good and that groups of linebackers is going to be unreal to try to limit their effectiveness. It hasn’t been mentioned in this article before, but Will Gingery is an incredible kicker and will be a huge difference in this contest. Take Wittenberg in a close battle, 30-24.
By Robert Pannier