Trevae Cain was still having trouble processing the fact that Reinhardt will play for the NAIA national title.
“I call my mom every other hour and tell her we’re going to the national championship,” the running back said Monday. “This is crazy.”
It’s been a quick ascent for Reinhardt (12-0), which will meet defending national champion University of Saint Francis (Ind.) in the final Dec. 16 at Daytona Beach, Fla.
This is the program’s fifth season, but the Eagles advanced to the semifinals in 2016 and then moved past that stage with Saturday’s double-overtime win over Southern Oregon.
“It’s pretty surreal. It probably hasn’t really hit me yet,” first-year coach James Miller said. “It’ll hit me when we go down there. I think the kids are in for an awesome time.”
Saint Francis (13-0) eliminated Reinhardt in the semifinals last December to start a heart-wrenching winter for the team and its campus in Waleska.
Coach Drew Cronic was hired as Furman’s offensive coordinator later that month, and Miller was promoted to replace him in January.
And in February, defensive line coach Quentin Moses, a former Georgia and NFL player, was killed in a house fire.
“It was a pretty big shock,” senior safety Marcus Miller (Marist) said. “Everybody loved coach Moses, so when it happened, everyone was really in shock. It’s kind of hard to explain. You lost your coach, a father figure, a mentor. It definitely was a rough patch for the team, going through that loss.”
The coaches held a team meeting that day and then after what James Miller described as a “long grieving process,” Reinhardt decided to dedicate this season to Moses.
“The kids’ purpose, the kids’ drive, it all goes for him,” Miller said. “It’s a big deal for us. It’s a big deal having that purpose that we’ve had all season. I know it means a lot to me. It means a lot to these kids, these coaches. We’re going to try to finish this thing off for him, that’s for sure.”
Reinhardt built on its success from the past two seasons — when it went a combined 22-3 — to dominate its opponents this fall.
The Eagles lead the NAIA in rushing with 350.5 yards per game, scoring defense (13.8 points), rushing defense (66.8 yards) and total defense (222.8 yards).
They rank sixth in scoring offense (46.2 points) and fourth in sacks (44.5). They’ve scored at least 53 points in seven games, have two shutouts and held six other opponents to 12 points or less.
“We definitely have set a high standard, not only for Reinhardt, but for teams around the league, just letting them know that Reinhardt is here and they’re here to stay,” Marcus Miller said.
As expected, the margin of victory has been narrowing as the Eagles have advanced in the playoffs.
They defeated Georgetown College (Ky.) 17-10 in the quarterfinals Nov. 25 and then needed a 48-yard field goal with 40 seconds left to force overtime against Southern Oregon.
Cain (Banks County) scored both of Reinhardt’s touchdowns in overtime and finished with a team-high 103 yards rushing.
“This team is very galvanized,” James Miller said. “This team has been through a lot in the last 12 months. These kids have bought in all the way. … It’s just a tough, gritty group of kids that love playing together and love playing football.”