WALESKA -- After back-to-back road trips totaling nearly 1,000 miles, Reinhardt will make a much shorter trip to play one of the best programs in the NCAA's Football Championship Subdivision.
The Eagles will be kicking off against Kennesaw State at Fifth Third Bank Stadium in the first meeting between the programs from neighboring counties.
The game will feature two teams ranked in the respective levels. Reinhardt (3-1) is ranked No. 14 in the NAIA coaches' poll, while Kennesaw State (3-1) jumped this week to No. 6 in STATS FCS poll.
“It’s a great opportunity for our kids to play in a great environment against a really good football team,” Reinhardt coach James Miller said. “I’m excited about it, and so are our kids.”
It will be the first time Reinhardt has played against higher-level competition since opening the 2013 and '14 seasons with a pair of three-point losses at Mercer, another FCS program. Miller was the offensive line coach for the 2014 team under then-coach Danny Cronic.
Reinhardt suffered its first loss of the season last week at Keiser after the Seahawks drove 98 yards in the final minutes and scored with less than 30 seconds to play to win 14-12.
The Eagles also lost multiple starters to season-ending injuries, including center Josh Chastain and right guard Jonathan Novicki.
Despite the mounting injuries, Miller said the team was able to regroup and is looking forward to Saturday’s challenge against the two-time FCS quarterfinalist.
“With some of the injuries, we’ve had we had to back off a little bit at practice and not go as physical as we normally do,” Miller said. “The kids have been focused, and we had a good Thursday practice. I told our kids, let’s throw everything we have at them on Saturday and go out there to win the game.”
Reinhardt will face a Kennesaw State team that bears a similar offensive philosophy. The Eagles are averaging 279 rushing yards per game, with the Owls rushing for an average of 411 to lead all of NCAA Division I ranks. Both teams will give multiple running backs opportunities to carry the ball.
“Yeah, I don’t think it’s going to be a real long game,” Miller said. “We might get out of there in an hour and 50 minutes.”
Reinhardt will attempt to slow down a Kennesaw State offense averaging 40 points per game this season. The Owls' only loss on the season came in overtime at Kent State, a Football Bowl Subdivision team.
Miller said the film was impressive when he sat down to scout the Owls.
“They’re very fast on defense,” Miller said. “They’ll play a lot of different fronts on defense and bring blitzes out of those. On offense, they’ve got a big ol’ fullback who can tote the rock, and I also think their quarterback is really good player.”
The fullback is Etowah High School graduate Bronson Rechsteiner, who set a single-game team rushing record with 221 yards in last week’s win at Missouri State. Rechsteiner leads the Owls with 339 yards on the season, followed by Isaac Foster (309) and quarterback Daniel David (205). Five other players have rushed for at least 100 yards.
Reinhardt will likely still be without starting defensive end J.T. Graydon and middle linebacker Dawson Mitchell, but multiple players have stepped up so far this season for the Eagles’ defense, which is allowing 9.2 points per game. Sebastian LeGarra leads the team with 27 tackles, while Matthew Prather has four tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.
The proximity of the two schools should make for a sizable crowd in Kennesaw. The game was a late addition to both the schedule after the Owls had a hole to be filled, and Miller is not opposed to it being the first of many matchups between the teams.
“I think it definitely has the potential to become something of a regular game,” Miller said. “I think it’s really good for the community. For the Cherokee, Cobb, Kennesaw and Canton areas, I think it’s really good to have this game. I think our side is going to travel well, and we’re excited to go out there and have fun on Saturday.”