WALESKA — No. 4 Reinhardt will have the chance to lock up the Mid-South Conference Appalachian Division title and a spot in the NAIA playoffs with a win against St. Andrews on Saturday.
The Eagles (7-1, 4-0) have won seven straight games, but not all of those wins have come comfortably, leaving room for improvement over the final two games of the season.
“We’re not playing consistent right now,” Reinhardt coach James Miller said. “We’re so up-and-down. We played well against Cumberlands, but we didn’t play well against Point. We played well against Bluefield, but we didn’t last week. It’s been like a roller coaster. We have to find a way to get it more consistent. We have two games left. We’re playing for a lot. We have a chance to be conference champs and get back to the playoffs. The kids understand that, but we have to get better.”
The biggest problem for Reinhardt has been penalties. It leads the NAIA with 115.9 penalty yards per game — a problem that loomed especially large last week, when the Eagles committed a season-high 23 penalties for 192 yards in a 35-23 win over Pikeville.
“We have to be better,” Miller said. “We’re trying to coach the kids up in those situations. I didn’t agree with all of them, but we have to do better. We have to do better as coaches, players and as a team. We have that eye on us, and we need to find a way to get past that. We aren’t going to win many games with 23 penalties. That’s for sure.”
Discipline will be especially important for Reinhardt’s defense this week against St. Andrews (2-5, 1-3) and its triple option offense.
Led by Chris Decker, the Knights have a balanced rushing attack that has produced 181.3 yards per game, with four players who have rushed for more than 200 yards.
“We practice without a ball,” Miller said. “That way, everyone is focused on tackling their responsibilities. Doing your job is very important on defense. We have to be very disciplined to get the job done.”
Offensively, Reinhardt is back to its normal spot atop the rushing leaderboard.
The Eagles lead the NAIA with 323.9 rushing yards per game, and running back Montralius Mosely has returned to lead the way, but the emergence of quarterback Billy Hall as Reinhardt’s second-leading rusher has added a new dynamic to the offense.
The sophomore scored the go-ahead touchdown last week on a 70-yard run.
“He’s really dangerous,” Miller said of Hall. “He’s become a big part of running game. He’s one of the fastest guys on our team once he gets going. We really want to keep him involved in the running game. It helps open up our passing game too. He’s getting better every week.”
Reinhardt’s biggest problem at times on offense has been converting third downs, where it ranks 14th nationally at 45 percent. Miller sees that as more of a product of penalties or lack of production on early downs, so keeping the offense in manageable third-down situations to keep St. Andrews’ offense on the sidelines is a top priority this week.
“We just have to stay in front of the sticks,” Miller said. “Every offense struggles when they fall behind, but ours especially isn’t really designed for those kinds of plays. We can’t hurt ourselves with penalties or missed assignments on first and second downs. That can kill a drive.”