In a season already fraught with adversity, Reinhardt will face its biggest challenge Saturday.
After beating Union 63-0 last week to claim the Mid-South Conference Appalachian Division title and advance to the NAIA tournament, the No. 13 Eagles (9-2) were given a trip to Indianapolis for a challenge against No. 2 Marian (9-0).
“At this point, everyone left is a good team,” Reinhardt coach James Miller said. “They are a good football team, but so are we.”
Reinhardt traveled to Indianapolis on Thursday and spent did walkthrough Friday at Marian. Miller hoped that leaving early would give the players plenty of time to adjust to the environment before Saturday's 1:05 p.m. kickoff.
Weather could play a major role, with high of temperature of 42 in Indianapolis, and the potential for snow in the late morning. Reinhardt could face conditions similar to its last trip to Indiana, when it faced St. Francis in the snow in another first-round NAIA playoff game.
Marian, which has been the No. 2-ranked team in the NAIA all season, won the Mid-States Football Association's Mideast League championship. The Knights, a two-time national champion in 2012 and '15, have outscored opponents by an average score of 39-8 this season.
Marian has the No.-1 ranked scoring defense and No. 4 rushing defense in the NAIA, surrendering an average of 74 rushing yards per game. Reinhardt has the No. 4 rushing offense (281 yards per game), and the battle of wills could play a major role Saturday.
“They’ve only given up more than 300 yards of offense once this season,” Miller said. “They have a very good defense.”
Marian also will roll out one of the best running backs in the NAIA in Charles Salary, who is sixth nationally with 1,240 rushing yards, to go along with 14 total touchdowns. Salary will run behind what Miller called the biggest offensive line Reinhardt will have faced this season, while 6-foot-6, 245-pound quarterback Ethan Darter has been efficient all year, averaging 191 passing yards per game with 14 touchdowns and two interceptions.
Marian’s defense has surrendered the fewest first downs in the NAIA, though Reinhardt is ranked No. 2 in the same category. The Eagles boast the No. 4-ranked total defense in the country and should be able to hold their own against a powerful Knights offense.
By almost every measure, Reinhardt will be viewed as the underdog Saturday, but it has overcome more than its share of adversity.
The Eagles' season opener against Webber International ended early due to inclement weather, as was their game one month later at Kennesaw State. They also played in monsoon-type conditions at Point and had a scheduled game against Cincinnati Christian canceled days before kickoff.
Injuries have also struck Reinhardt particularly hard, but its rushing attack looked as explosive as it had all season last week against Union, which should give the Eagles confidence heading into Saturday’s game.
“If we win this game, then we will have just beaten one of the best teams in the country,” Miller said. “If we beat them, I think we’d have a pretty good chance against anyone. We have to just do what we do to the best of our abilities. I’ll promise this -- we’re going to shoot all our bullets and not leave anything behind.”