After having his helmet knocked off by a Cumberland player, Reinhardt defensive end Tevin McCoy retaliated by throwing a punch. The play resulted in not only a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct — which gave the Bulldogs a first down — but, more importantly, McCoy’s ejection.
Without their top pass-rusher and one of their leading tacklers, the Eagles (5-4, 3-1 Mid-South West) struggled to slow down Cumberland’s offense, which tallied 474 yards of offense.
Reinhardt coach Danny Cronic called McCoy’s ejection the biggest play of the game. He didn’t make excuses for the freshman, instead saying the player felt terrible about the incident.
“He is our best pass-rusher, and we really needed some pass-rushing,” Cronic said. “There was a lack of discipline and we struggled with that throughout the day.”
Reinhardt suffered a division loss for the first time this season and must now win next week’s regular-season finale at Campbellsville to beat out Faulkner for the Western Division title. It will also be the Eagles’ last chance to pad their resume for a potential at-large bid into the 16-team NAIA tournament.
Although the loss of McCoy certainly hurt Reinhardt, the team wasn’t done any favors by other players.
Reinhardt turned the ball over six times on four fumbles and two interceptions. It also had possession of the ball for just 2 minutes, 14 seconds in the entire first half. The Eagles only made it to the red zone twice, and even then only came away with points once. They also missed two field goal attempts.
After the game, Cronic didn’t deny that the loss was heartbreaking.
“We all build our castles, even us as coaches,” he said referring to their hope of staying unbeaten in the division. “We came in here (two weeks ago) and played the No. 2 team in the country (the University of the Cumberlands) and we were fired up. Sure, we might have run out of steam in the fourth quarter, but we were up for it.
“Then, this game, the roles were reversed. (Cumberland) came down here to play the No. 20 team, and they had something to prove.”
Cumberland (6-4, 3-2) had a 10-0 advantage before Reinhardt’s offense even took the field. The Bulldogs received the opening kickoff and ended the possession with a 24-yard field goal.
Reinhardt’s L.J. Stegall returned the ensuing kickoff 26 yards and appeared poised to take it all the way to the end zone, but he fumbled. Cumberland recovered the ball, and McCoy was ejected four plays later.
The Bulldogs, who had come up short after going for it on fourth down, were awarded new life with the unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty and came away with a touchdown four plays later.
Stegall made up for his earlier miscue by returning the next kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown, which cut the deficit to 10-7. That was Stegall’s last return of the day, as Cumberland’s kicker began squibbing each kickoff.
Cumberland then scored on each of its next three drives, while Reinhardt was forced to punt once and fumbled the ball on a punt return to lose possession on another occasion.
The lead ballooned to 26-7 before Stegall helped Reinhardt chip away at it once again. On second-and-10 at the Reinhardt 43, Stegall broke away for a 53-yard touchdown run. Matthew Moon made the point-after and the Eagles trailed 26-14.
Reinhardt fumbled away another scoring opportunity minutes later when Ladrell Cammon intercepted a pass by Cumberland quarterback Reed Gurchiek and returned it 22 yards, but Cammon lost the ball inside the Cumberland 10.
The Bulldogs were unable to make anything of the possession and Reinhardt took over with 2:22 left in the first half. Runs by Stegall, Jaylen Dodd and T.C. Carter moved the ball to the Cumberland 21 before quarterback Ryan Thompson connected with Aaron Kennedy for a touchdown. The score was 26-21 with 1:11 to play in the half, but the action wasn’t over.
After a pair of incompletions and a sack, Gurchiek had plenty of time to throw as his receivers lined up in the end zone while time expired. The long pass was tipped in the end zone before being caught by Anthony Woodard for the 34-yard touchdown.
The first half ended with Cumberland up 33-21.
The Eagles’ offense continued to turn the ball over, but the defense was able to make a few more stops in the second half.
Cumberland added just one more touchdown, on a 1-yard run by Broc Loveless, but the Bulldogs might not have even gotten that much had Reinhardt quarterback Johnathon Chamblee not fumbled on his own 35.
Reinhardt added a final score to its total as Stegall toted the ball to the end zone from 16 yards out with 8:38 left in the game.
Stegall finished the game with 144 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries. He also returned three kickoffs for 130 yards and another score.
Aside from Stegall, no other Eagle had more 27 rushing yards.
Thompson and Chamblee combined to go 8-for-24 for 130 yards. Each threw an interception. Kennedy caught four passes for 63 yards.
Fredrel Cross led Cumberland with 153 rushing yards on 20 carries. Gurchiek and Loveless, who also ran for 85 yards on 19 carries, combined to connect eight different receivers.
Cronic said his team was simply outmatched.
“Physically, they were bigger and stronger and faster than us,” he said. “Then, when you throw in the turnovers, and we had to start doing things that they were ready for — like throwing in the fourth quarter — then it just kind of went south. That is what I think.
“We had a lot of things that we thought were going to work, but the turnovers will take you out of your game.”