WALESKA — Reinhardt entered Saturday’s first-round NAIA tournament game against Marian University with a long and not so happy memory.
Having not forgotten about an opening-round loss at the Indianapolis college in 2019, the Eagles were anxious for payback when the teams met again — this time on Reinhardt’s home turf.
Reinhardt got its revenge by scoring 27 unanswered points during the middle quarters and the early minutes of the fourth before holding off a late comeback attempt to seal a 40-29 victory at Ken White Field.
“We kind of came in with blood in the water,” said Reinhardt receiver Navarie Solomon, who had four receptions for 82 yards and a touchdown. “We wanted to get a victory in front of our home crowd, and that’s what we did.”
The Eagles (9-0) will the road for the second round, traveling to face fellow unbeaten Keiser (8-0) on Saturday in West Palm Beach, Florida.
While Reinhardt coach James Miller said his players were not nervous at the start of Saturday’s game, the offense did look timid on its opening two drives. The first ended in a punt and the second a safety when running back Terry Berdin was tackled in the end zone for a 3-yard loss.
Meanwhile, the defense bailed the offense out when Tylan Oglesby had an interception at the Reinhardt 3-yard line, ending a potential 80-yard drive by Marian. But once thee Knights’ third drive of the game stalled on a fourth-down sack by Garrison Walker to start the second quarter, Reinhardt’s offense found its groove.
The Eagles moved methodically down the field, starting on the 36-yard line, and quarterback Billy Hall hit a wide-open Logan Garner for a 15-yard touchdown to put Reinhardt in front.
Late in the second quarter, when Marian was flagged for roughing the kicker, Reinhardt took advantage when Hall connected with Solomon for a 24-yard touchdown pass for a 14-2 halftime lead.
Reinhardt added to its lead in the third when Jon Perry had an interception and returned it 22 yards for a touchdown, and again in the fourth on a 1-yard plunge by Devyn Collins.
“We saw some stuff we could take advantage of,” Miller said. “After the first couple of drives, I knew we could move the ball on them. We ran it right at them more, which I think was a big deal, and we were able to hit some throws that we weren’t able to last year.”
Now in front 27-2, Reinhardt put in it reserves and Marian answered with four quick touchdowns. Daylen Taylor’s touchdown from 3 yards out cut the Eagles’ lead to 33-22 with 2:55 left to play.
Marian was able to score quickly after making a quarterback change. Zach Bandalo replaced Frankie Young in the fourth and completed 11 of 16 passes for 285 yards and three touchdowns during the final frame.
Reinhardt managed to stay in front during Marian’s surge with a pair of field goals by James Hardy. The Eagles scored late to put the game away when the first string re-entered the game and Isaiah Blake scored on a 1-yard run with 2 minutes left.
Hall finished with 118 passing yards and 92 rushing yards for the Eagles. Arguably his biggest play of the game came on Reinhardt’s final drive, when his 31-yard scramble set up Blake’s touchdown.
“We put a lot in to this thing, and I’m super proud of them,” Miller said. “They can think about it (Saturday night), but they got to erase it and start back over. We’ve got to reset the buttons.”