The Eagles’ preparation for their first game against the Mercer Bears began in May of 2012, when head coach Danny Cronic was assigned to the Reinhardt football program with no more than a blank roster and a couple of phone numbers. The road to their first season was marked by the hiring of a coaching staff, 120 players and the building of an athletic facility.
The Eagles played their first ever football game in 130 years at Anderson Field at Mercer University after a year of grinding through the day to day life of a student athlete, without any games to look forward to. And for all their hard work and commitment, the first play of Reinhardt football history was an interception by Juice Arnold, in deep coverage, when Mercer dared to test the prowess of the Reinhardt secondary.
With only a handful of fans, and the players and coaches on the field to celebrate, those in blue and gold erupted in cheer while the rest of Tony and Nancy Moye stadium fell silent in disbelief. The game that both teams had spent years working towards had finally began.
With the ball at the third yard line, the Eagles looked to their RB LJ Stegall to get some room. He came up big with a twenty-two yard gain. After a few more plays and an unsuccessfully converted third and two, Reinhardt punted and covered it well with Ladrell Cammon tackling the ball carrier for a gain of one.
The Reinhardt defense held steady with Defensive End (DE) Tevin Mccoy, making a play two yards in the backfield. Reinhardt secondary gave nothing to Mercer’s QB who was forced to two incomplete passes, including a pass break up by Adrian Hayes. Mercer then punted the ball. Three plays later, the Eagles would be doing the same, but this time not without capitalizing on Mercer’s mistake.
The punt returner, forced aback by the coverage of Reinhardt’s defense, fumbled the ball while Eagle player, Vashaun Washington recovered it at Mercer’s thirteen. The Eagles capitalized when Jonathan Chamblee completed a three yard pass to LJ Stegall for Reinhardt University’s first touchdown. After a botched extra point attempt, the Eagle’s defense readied themselves for another drive after kickoff.
Starting the Bears drive was a fifteen yard personal foul, one of many penalties that would haunt the Eagles throughout the game. This moved the Bears from the twenty-eight to the forty-three. After a sweep play and successful QB scramble, the Mercer QB connected with his receiver for a thirty-seven yard touchdown.
The Eagles responded quickly when LJ Stegall returned a kickoff that showcased the speed that earned him honorifics as the fastest player on the team. The blue and gold fans combusted into cheer again for another amazing play by the Eagles.
This would begin the back and forth shootout that highlighted the entire game.
The Eagles defense forced the Bears to grudgingly work in a thirteen play drive that ended in a touchdown. However, this was not without the aid of personal foul during a third and two situation, which extended the Bear’s drive.
Upon kickoff, LJ Stegall nearly returned another before being tripped up by an unseen defender, advancing the ball to the Reinhardt forty-two. The Eagles showcased RB TC Carter as well as the throwing ability of Chamblee in their fourth drive of the game, advancing the ball to the Bear’s twenty-five. There they unsuccessfully attempted a forty-two yard field goal.
The Eagles defense took the field again. After another twelve play drive, the Bears scored and the Reinhardt offense answered with a field goal of their own, when kicker Matthew Moon made good from twenty-eight yards out.
With only two minutes and fifty seconds left on the clock, the Eagles defense made sure to end the half on a positive note, when Linebacker Chas Pierce, sacked Mercer’s QB on a backside blitz that resulted in a fumble.
The second half opened with consecutive stops by both team defenses, before the Bears returned a fumbled at nine minutes and fifty-five seconds for a touchdown, making the score 16-28 Mercer.
Needing to generate some momentum, the Eagles turned to their 6’4 wide receiver, Tyler Bradley, for the second play of their drive. He came up big, when QB Chamblee connected for a twenty yard gain, but not before Bradley broke a tackle and drug a few defenders. The Eagles then proceeded to drive their way through the Mercer defense until they reached the one yard line of the Bears. Unable to convert on fourth and goal, possession returned to the Bears.
The Eagles defense held the Bears within thirteen yards of their goal line before forcing them to punt to Travis Nunley. Then on the second play of the drive, QB Ryan Thompson passed to Niagel Curtis for a forty-four yard touchdown. The score was now 22-28.
The Eagle’s defense got the Bears again, and with only fifty seconds on the clock in the third quarter. RB Sam Jones accelerated for a seventy-eight yard touchdown, past the middle of the Bear’s defense. The score was 29-28 Eagles.
With the fourth quarter approaching, both teams aligned themselves for a game where momentum would become impossible to grasp. The Bears concluded their fourth quarter drive with a touchdown. The Eagles were forced to punt again and recovered another fumble when Mercer’s returner fumbled the ball at their own eleven; Adrian Hayes on the play.
LJ Stegall ran for his third touchdown after TC Carter set him up with an eight yard gain in the previous play. Eagles 35-34. Seeking to force Mercer into a field goal situation, the Eagles tried for a two-point conversion and succeeded when Thompson connected with Aaron Kenneday in the end zone. The score: Eagles 37-34.
In what was the longest drive of the game, the Bears worked their way down the field–forced to make several difficult plays on the run or in the secondary. This left some of their players injured and their running back reeling from some tough hits from Eagles safety Ladrell Cammon. They were, however, forced to settle for a field goal, which they converted from twenty-eight yards out, evening the score.
With only three minutes left in the game, the Eagles attempted to get in field goal range for the victory. Travis Nunley almost put the Bears out of commission when he raced passed Mercer’s defenders before finally being tripped up by the kicker. This put the ball at the Reinhardt thirty-nine. The Eagle’s offense advanced twenty yards before calling a timeout at thirty seconds to decide how to handle their fourth and six situation, as it seemed that the coaches couldn’t agree on a course of action.
Too far for a field goal and too close for a punt to do anything, the Reinhardt offense went for it. The play that would decide the game was a Sixty-six Punch, with a twin set and a corner route–Thompson dropped back and scanned the field for his receivers. However, with the pocket collapsing, he spun to avoid a defender and was forced to take off, if he had any hope to keep the play positive. Unable to escape the trenches of the field, he was grounded at the line of scrimmage.
The rest is history.
Final score: Eagles 37, Bears 40.
Be sure to check out the Reinhardt Eagles when they play Lindsey Wilson at home on September 7th.
& Meagan Hurley