After surviving the Wildcats, the Eagles (3-2, 2-0 Mid-South Conference) have now won three straight league games after dropping their first two games of the season.
In weeks past, Reinhardt often attempted late rallies, but Saturday saw the Eagles take a 34-17 lead into halftime before sweating out the rest of the game. Bethel (0-5, 0-2) rallied to within five points in the final minute of the game and attempted an onside kick, but the Eagles recovered to essentially seal the game.
Reinhardt coach Danny Cronic said the number of injured players on his bench had an impact late in the game, as he didn’t have many reserves to go to. And the absence of center Brandon Keith resulted in a couple of sacks and smaller holes for the Eagles’ running backs.
“Defensively, we didn’t play as hungry as we have, especially in the first half,” Cronic said. “We felt this coming. It wasn’t like we were celebrating at the end of the first half. We were unhappy with our performance and the field position that they were getting, and the way (Bethel was) sustaining drives.”
L.J. Stegall and Carl Edouard were the driving forces of Reinhardt offense, both finishing with two touchdowns. Stegall had nine carries for a team-leading 69 yards, while Edouard carried the ball 11 times for 39 yards, before leaving the game with a sprained MCL. T.C. Carter also made his mark with 10 carries for 43 yards.
While he didn’t catch a pass or carry the ball, Travis Nunley tallied more yards than any other Eagle.
The return specialist’s big play came in the waning minutes of the first quarter.
After Bethel scored by converting a fourth-and-1 from the Reinhardt 8 into a touchdown run by quarterback Kerry Sellers, Nunley fielded the ensuing kickoff inside the end zone. Attempting to run before he had secured the ball, Nunley bobbled the ball, eventually dropping it and kicking it. Still, he scooped up the ball at the goal line and slashed through the middle of the Wildcat coverage. By the time he was at the 30-yard line, only the kicker was in front of him.
“When I picked up the ball, I was going to the right and I just saw a hole and hit it,” Nunley said. “I could feel them on my heels. Once they touched me, I just turned it on as fast as I could.
“I sure didn’t want to get tackled by the kicker.”
Nunley didn’t get stopped by the kicker and went the distance to make the score 14-all.
Cronic said that play was probably the game-changer, allowing the Eagles to take momentum before withstanding Bethel’s late rally.
Reinhardt quarterback Johnathon Chamblee was 12-for-14 passing for 160 yards and a touchdown during the first half, but the freshman injured his shoulder on the first snap of the second half and Ryan Thompson stepped in to finish the game. Thompson was 4-for-6 passing for 32 yards.
Both quarterbacks threw an interception, with Chamblee’s coming during the Eagles’ first offensive series to set up Bethel’s first touchdown.
After Reinhardt doubled-up on Bethel in the first half, the Wildcats inched closer in the third quarter, with Sellers scoring on a 3-yard run to make it 34-24.
The fourth quarter began with Reinhardt on its own 42 in a third-and-6. Twice on the drive, the Eagles converted on third down and Thompson put the ball in the air looking for another conversion. However, one pass was intercepted by Jacquel Skinner, who returned it for a 50-yard touchdown. The point-after attempt failed and Reinhardt led 34-30.
With Chamblee out, Thompson was forced to shake off the interception and go back to work. The Eagles went three-and-out, punting the ball away with 12:36 left in the game.
Sellers and the Wildcats chipped their way down field. After running for the first down on third-and-3, Sellers scrambled for another third-down conversion three plays later, but he soon ran out of luck.
On second-and-11 from the Reinhardt 48, Sellers was flushed from the pocket. He moved toward the sideline, but rather than run out of bounds, he continued to fight for extra yards before finally being brought down by the Eagle defense — injuring his shoulder in the process.
Senior B.J Robertson took over at quarterback, and while Bethel was able to pick up a first down on his first pass, it couldn’t sustain the drive, eventually turning it over after failing to pick up a first down on a fourth-and-3 from the Reinhardt 35.
Getting the ball with 7:17 on the clock, the Eagles capitalized. Thompson completed a 13-yard pass to tight end Chris Johnson, before hitting Aaron Kennedy for another first down on the Bethel 38.
On third-and-4 from the Bethel 27, Carter ran 6 yards for the first down as the clock ticked to 3:54. A false-start penalty backed Reinhardt up 5 yards, but Thompson and Carter went to work and moved the ball down to the Bethel 8 with 2:26 left in the game.
A Bethel player went down on the play and Reinhardt used the stoppage to regroup. When the ball was placed and the clock started, Cronic allowed 20 seconds to run off the clock before sending his offense onto the field. On the next snap, Stegall took a handoff from Thompson and ran for the 8-yard touchdown.
Andrew Wilder added the point after and Reinhardt led 41-36 with 1:18 remaining.
“We were trying to run some time off the clock,” Cronic said. “That was big. They had to get the ball and score again and they were aware that one score wasn’t going to do it.”
A long return by Jahron Reynolds put the Wildcats in striking distance. Robertson went 4-for-6 passing on the drive for 44 yards on the drive, including his 4-yard touchdown pass to Travonta Thomas. Bethel attempted a 2-point conversion, but failed.
A.J. Thomas led Reinhardt with 9½ tackles. Tevin McCoy had seven tackles, while Blake Barnes intercepted a pass and broke up another.