The Eagles scored on passing plays, long runs, kickoff returns and goal-line situations. What they couldn’t do was keep their opponent from scoring just as often. Reinhardt put up 82 points in its first two games, but it twice fell on the losing end after giving up a combined 90 points.
All of that changed Saturday at Kentucky Christian, and it produced the first win in program history. To coach Danny Cronic, the change came on defense.
Though Cronic said the Knights faced the best defense his players had seen, Reinhardt rose to the occasion, holding Kentucky Christian to just 14 points.
To hold any team to two scores, consistency is key. In its two losses, Reinhardt had a tendency to allow big plays too often.
“I know that (defensive coordinator) Steve (Wilson) had been staying there late watching film and put the players in the right place (Saturday),” Cronic said. “And they seemed to mature and have their wits about them. The fact that they were playing a second-team quarterback has to work in there, too.”
While the Reinhardt defense deserves its credit, the comeback win would not have been possible without the offense putting together a final scoring drive with 2:11 left on the clock. Not only that, but the Eagles didn’t fumble the ball away, as they did often in their previous game with Lindsey Wilson.
L.J. Stegall, who had been the driving force of Reinhardt’s offense, finally got some help from the other running backs, as Deonte Dennis stepped up for 115 yards and two touchdowns.
“We were very proud of him,” Cronic said of Dennis, a sophomore from Rome. “He was able to outrun folks. Offensively, we are there. In my mind, what we did very well was that we didn’t lose the game. The game would have been very easy to lose (Saturday), but we didn’t lose the game because we didn’t make those mistakes that killed us.”
The Eagles weren’t flawless. A first-half interception ended a promising drive, and they seemed to hit a slum for a while. There was also a missed field goal late in the fourth quarter, but Reinhardt was able to quickly sway the momentum in its favor with an interception by Blake Barnes a few plays later.
For now, Cronic said the pressure has been lessened a bit with the first win.
“It kind of takes the monkey off our backs, so to speak,” he said. “We still have some young players, and they are going to make mistakes, but, hopefully, we can put our ‘A game’ together.”
ANOTHER FIRST: Barnes became the first Eagle to receive an accolade from the Mid-South Conference on Monday, when he was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Week.
The freshman linebacker from Fayetteville, contributed eight tackles at Kentucky Christian, including four solos. However, his biggest play of the game came midway through the fourth quarter when he intercepted a pass and returned the ball inside the Knights’ 20 to set up a touchdown that put the Eagles up 13-7 at the time.
“You have to call that the play of the game,” Cronic said. “That was big. That was really big.”
KEEP IT MOVING: Cronic believes one reason for the team’s success is its hurry-up offense.
“What that is doing is that it has conditioned both our offense and our defense, and that shows a bit in the fourth quarter, if we can get it there,” he said. “When you run the hurry-up, you run through a few more mistakes. That youth in there is probably where we are having the trouble.”
Still, the coach feels it’s just a matter of time before the offense is clicking and not making foolish mistakes.
LOOKING AHEAD: Reinhardt is back on the road again Saturday, traveling to Montgomery, Ala., for a 6 p.m. kickoff at Faulkner University.
No. 23 Faulkner (3-0) is coming off a 58-20 rout of Union.
Saturday’s game will be the first Mid-South Conference West Division game for both teams.
“I think Faulkner is probably the team to beat in this league,” Cronic said. “Their coach has been in that position, I think, three years and has done a good job. They are a big school. I think they have over 4,000 residents. They recruit a lot of players from California and Florida, and that can be expensive to do that.”