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Denison and Wittenberg entertain in a 4OT thriller

Canaan Gebele  |  Photo by Jace Delgado
Canaan Gebele | Photo by Jace Delgado

GRANVILLE, Ohio--  Facing a 25 point halftime deficit, Denison outscored the 11th ranked Wittenberg Tigers 28-3 in the second half to force overtime.  It took a combined eight overtime possessions to decide one of the most thrilling games in the 128-year history of Denison football.  Wittenberg left Piper Stadium with a 68-66 victory, but for Denison football, this was another statement game on the timeline of a program that has been rebuilt piece-by-piece by head coach Jack Hatem and his staff since 2010.

There are so many takeaways from a game that featured 1,160 yards of total offense and 18 touchdowns it's hard to put into context.  What we can tell you is this game has to be seen to be believed.  In fact, you can view the archive of the game that was viewed by more than 3,000 live on the Denison Sports Network.  That might be the place to start.

If you would rather have the rundown we're happy to take a crack at it.

Trailing by 25 in the second half, Denison turned to the run instead of the pass.  Senior tailback Alex Minton and quarterback Canaan Gebele took turns moving the Big Red offense.  Minton finished with a career-high 197 yards rushing on 27 carries and Gebele went for 119 yards on 24 attempts.  Gebele also broke the Denison single-game record for rushing touchdowns (five) that has stood since Eric Ivary reached paydirt four times in 1966 against Kenyon.

With the Denison offensive line moving the pile and momentum continuing to build, the defense responded by forcing two three-and-outs in the third quarter.  In all, Denison had the ball for 11:19 in the third quarter.

The Tigers opened the fourth quarter with an 11-play drive that ended with a 30-yard field goal by Adam Acquista.  Facing a 4th-and-1 on the Denison 9-yard line, the field goal was a victory for the defense and it kept momentum on the side of the Big Red.

Like a boxer who had been going with a steady dose of body-blows, it was time for the uppercut. On Denison's next possession, Gebele went up top on a bomb to David Weimar who caught it at the Wittenberg 30-yard line and outran three Wittenberg defensive backs for a 64-yard touchdown reception.

Suddenly it was a one-possession game at 38-30.

After two more three-and-out's by the Denison defense, the Big Red took over with 4:41 left in the fourth quarter on their 17-yard line.  Gebele found Weimar on first down for 29 yards then scrambled for a 12-yard gain.  On 4th and 2 with the game on the line, Gebele completed a 3-yard pass to Hunter Biddle as Wittenberg brought a heavy blitz.  Six plays later, Gebele finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run with 44 seconds left to set up the biggest two-point conversion in recent memory.

The two-point conversion was good as Gebele went back to Biddle and the two teams were off to the races in overtime.

At this point, it was time to tear up the record books.  Wittenberg started with a 25-yard touchdown pass from Jake Kennedy to Jeff Tiffner on second down.

Gebele answered with a 25-yard strike to Weimar to force a second OT. 

Denison stayed on offense and Gebele called his own number on an 8-yard scramble that gave Denison its first lead of the game at 52-45.  Three consecutive incompletions by Kennedy had Denison one stop away from victory but the Tigers had other things in mind. On 4th and 10, Kennedy fired a 17-yard pass to Bryce Bailey. It was a quick shot of adrenaline for the Tigers and on the next play, Nick Kendall scored from 8-yards.

Entering the third overtime session, extra-point attempts were prohibited and two-point conversion attempts are mandatory.  On 1st and goal from the 7-yard line, Kennedy threw his sixth touchdown pass of the night on a fade to Thaddeus Snodgrass.  On the two-point conversion, Tiffner took the handoff on an end-around and dove at the pylon to go on top 60-52.

DU went back to its workhorse, Minton, as he toted the ball six times accounting for all 25 yards of the drive. His 4-yard plunge set DU up for the fateful PAT attempt.  This time Gebele went to the air and connected with C.J. Davis on a fade in the corner of the end zone.

Denison took the lead back in the fourth overtime as Gebele scored on a 14-yard TD run but they left the door cracked as their two-point conversion pass was stopped on the 1-yard line by the Tiger defense.

On Wittenberg's possession, they were faced with their second fourth down of the extra sessions and once again, Kennedy came up spades.  On 4th and 7 from the 22, Kennedy got just enough as he found Tiffner for an 8-yard gain.  On 3rd and 6, Kennedy threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Snodgrass tying the game at 66-66.  He followed with the game-winning two-point play by diving for the pylon at the far boundary.  After a pause that seemed more like minutes than seconds, the line judge raised his hands signaling the successful conversion and the end to an instant classic.

Kennedy finished 31-of-43 for 421 yards and a school-record seven touchdowns passes.  Gebele threw for 262 yards and two touchdowns. Weimar caught six passes for 150 yards and two scores.  Malik Webster finished with two receptions for 70 yards.

Tristan Knoer led the DU defense with 11 stops.  Chase Struewing, Nate Keirn and Ben Cross had one sack apiece and Michael Flanagan turned in the game's only interception in the first quarter.

Terrance Crowe led Wittenberg with 13 tackles and one sack. Troy Jones had eight tackles and two costly blocked kicks, one coming on a field goal try in the second quarter and another on a PAT try in the third quarter.

Wittenberg improves to 4-0 and 3-0 in the NCAC while Denison drops to 2-2 and 2-1 in conference play.  The Big Red looks to bounce back next Saturday (Oct. 6) when they host Wabash at 3 p.m.

NOTABLE:  This was the sixth overtime game in Denison football history and the fourth that has taken place at Piper Stadium.  This was the first home overtime game since a 41-35 victory over Kenyon on Oct. 26, 2006.  Denison's last overtime game took place at Ohio Wesleyan on Sept. 28, 2013, resulting in a 47-41 win by the Big Red.  Denison is 5-1 all-time in overtime games.  The 136 combined points broke the NCAC record for points scored in a game. The previous record was 131 points set by Earlham and Manchester in 2005.