At the midway point of the season and following back-to-back losses, Reinhardt coach James Miller feels his team is close to breaking through.
“I think we’re on the verge. I really do,” Miller said. “To me, the rest of the season is a one-game playoff. We’re trying to win to secure a spot in the playoffs, and to do that, we’ve got to take it one game at a time.”
Reinhardt (3-2) fell 31-7 last week at Kennesaw State. The game ended early due to severe weather, and while the Owls looked like the better side for much of the first half, Billy Hall’s 21-yard touchdown run just before halftime seemed to lift the Eagles’ spirits.
“For us to score against the No. 4 team in the (FCS) was a big deal,” Miller said. “I didn’t think we played particularly well up front on offense, but I think we protected the quarterback really well on pass protection. Defensively, we played the run well up the middle, but we’ve got to improve on the edge. I didn’t want to end that game early, and I thought we had some momentum in the second half before the weather, but we just have to play better all around.”
With the non-conference portion of the schedule is now behind them, the Eagles will begin Mid-South Conference play Saturday at Kentucky Christian (2-3). Reinhardt, which fell to No. 21 in the NAIA coaches’ poll, won the last meeting between the teams 43-7 in 2016 and leads the all-time series 3-1.
After preparing for the ground attack of Kennesaw State, the Eagles now face a Kentucky Christian team which is second in the Mid-South in passing (329.4 yards per game) and fourth in scoring (38.2 points per game). The Knights are also second in the conference in total offense, averaging 494.8 yards per game.
Miller said they have the pieces on offense to give cause, trouble for a Reinhardt defense which is second in the conference allowing 13.6 points per game.
“(Kentucky Christian) does a really good job on offense,” Miller said. “They’ve been putting up points all season, and I really challenged our defense this week because no one has really been able to stop these guys so far.”
Kentucky Christian played without leading passer Dorian Isaak in last week’s 63-35 loss to Warner, but it should still be led by junior running back De-Anta Sipp, who leads the team with 621 rushing yards and eight total touchdowns. The Knights also have two receivers, DeVon McCoy and Anton Wheeler, with more than 500 receiving yards and are sure to test the Eagles’ secondary. McCoy leads the NAIA with 47 receptions, while Wheeler leads the country with 583 receiving yards.
Regardless of whether Reinhardt is able to contain the Kentucky Christian offense, the Eagles should feel confident about their own offense heading into this week. Kentucky Christian’s opponents are averaging 61.6 points per game in the Knights’ current three-game losing streak.
Hall found a rhythm passing the ball last week against Kennesaw State and although Reinhardt will remain a run-first offense, Miller said the plays in the passing game make an enormous difference.
“We made some big plays throwing the football last week, and that’s really what’s been missing,” Miller said. “We just need a couple guys to start stepping up and making some big plays, but that’s everyone. We need to pass it better, run better routes, block better and tackle better.
“Offensively, we had the best Thursday practice we’ve had all season. The kids are really focused, and I told them nobody remembers how you start. They remember how you finish.”