For wide receiver Logan Harris, the proof came with last year’s season-ending loss in the playoffs.
Quarterback Shaefer Schuetz knew after seeing the way his team responded to its lone regular-season loss.
Ask any Benedictine player when they realized the potential of this Ravens team that will play for the NAIA football championship on Saturday in Daytona Beach, Fla., and you might get as many answers as roster spots.
But something about the way Benedictine handled adversity served to inspire the best season in program history.
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“Coming into this season we knew we had a special group of guys,” Schuetz said.
The Ravens (13-1) meet Morningside of Sioux City, Iowa (14-0), for the championship. Kickoff is 5 p.m. and the game will be streamed on ESPN3.
Benedictine got off to a fast start, winning its first two games by a combined score of 103-14. But a loss at Evangel in the third week caused a reassessment.
“The loss was a defining moment,” Schuetz said. “It’s tough to say there wasn’t some doubt after that loss. But no matter the outcome we have the ability to flush the previous week, and we’ve done that week in, week out.”
After an open week, the Ravens played one of their best games, defeating MidAmerica Nazarene 49-19. They won out, going 5-0 in the Heart of America North, and drew Cumberlands (Ky.) in the first round of the NAIA playoffs. The Ravens overcame a 10-point halftime deficit and won by a touchdown in double overtime.
“That was not quitting and the never-give-up attitude we all have,” said senior defensive back Matt McCullough, whose fumble recovery led to the game-tying field goal that forced overtime.
Two more triumphs brought Benedictine to this weekend, a place the team knew was possible after getting bounced in its first playoff game in 2017.
The opponent was Saint Francis (Ind.), and the Ravens fell 26-21 to the team that went on to win its second straight national title. The victory over Benedictine was the closest call.
“We stuck with them, and that let us believe that we belonged,” Harris said. “Our whole mind-set this year was to get back to the playoffs, push through that first game and don’t stop there.”
Benedictine’s appearance in the title game is a first for the program. Football began in 1921 when the school was known as St. Benedict’s. The sport was discontinued in the 1960s but brought back in 1970.
Larry Wilcox was a player on that team. He became an assistant coach, and since 1979 he’s been the Ravens head coach. Charlie Gartenmeyer, who serves as the school’s athletic director, and Dennis Murphy joined the original staff with Wilcox. They’ve been part of national semifinal teams but couldn’t get past that round until now.
“These guys have had a fairly unique approach to the season from the beginning,” Wilcox said. “Our staff set a high standard for them and encouraged them to work toward that. They bought in and got themselves to where they are right now.”
The Ravens are balanced on offense with Schuetz, who played at Park Hill South High and leads a passing attack that averages 213 yards per game. Running back Marquis Stewart, a Northwest Missouri State transfer, averages 125.7 yards per game.
Benedictine, ranked sixth in NAIA, has the fourth-ranked scoring offense at 45.1 points and ranks fifth in defense at 16.7. Top-ranked Morningside is second in scoring at 53.9 and third in defense at 14.9.
The teams have a common opponent in William Penn. Morningside opened its season with a 49-21 victory in that game. Benedictine beat the same team 35-0.
As both schools seek their first NAIA football championship, Wilcox expects a huge following for the private school with an enrollment of about 2,100. His phone has been buzzing ever since the Ravens won at Kansas Wesleyan in the semifinals.
“I’m really pleased for whole Ravens family, so loyal, committed and dedicated,” Wilcox said. “This is great for everyone associated with the school.”