by Steve Johnson
Special to The Leaven
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — A Catholic college was on the brink of a national football championship against the No. 1-ranked team in America. It wasn’t Notre Dame.
It was Benedictine College in Atchison.
The Ravens had made an historic run through the playoffs and for the first time in program history, they were in the NAIA national football championship game down in Daytona Beach, Florida.
They faced the No. 1-ranked and undefeated Morningside College (Iowa) Mustangs and their NAIA Player of the Year, starting quarterback Trent Solsma.
But it was Benedictine’s quarterback, Shaefer Schuetz, who opened the game with a 42-yard bomb to wide receiver Aaron Jackson that set the Ravens up on the Mustang 27-yard line.
Just a few plays later, they were in the end zone and the Ravens had a quick 7-0 lead. The game was hard-fought through the first half and Benedictine carried a 20-14 lead into halftime.
Morningside came out of halftime fast, scoring a touchdown to take a 21-20 lead in just 31 seconds. They scored again to extend the lead to 28-20, but Benedictine was not through.
The Raven defense shut Morningside down and the offense put together a 62-yard, 10-play drive to score a touchdown, making it 28-26 in the fourth quarter.
After a stunning two-point conversion to tie the game at 28, it looked like things might go Benedictine’s way. The swarming Raven defense had effectively shut the Mustangs down and left it in the hands of the offense.
An unfortunate turnover in the waning minutes of the game led to a touchdown for Morningside and a 35-28 lead with only 1:29 remaining. Sadly, that would be the final score.
But the score does little to tell the whole story.
All you had to do was turn your gaze from the field to the stands to see the Raven Nation, more than 3,000 strong, cheering and singing the school’s fight song.
This is the story of what has been called “Mary’s Team” by Benedictine College president Stephen D. Minnis. The story of a group of players who had attended the president’s Wednesday morning rosary through the entire season and a quarterback who attended eucharistic adoration every Friday before a game.
And it went further than that. The college offered daily Mass at the hotel for the team and fans. Minnis led rosaries on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. And a eucharistic adoration chapel was set up in the hotel.
On top of that, the wave of Benedictine spirit that washed over the country was impressive. The excitement level was tremendous among friends and alumni of the college. Watch parties were set up all across America — and they were packed.
More fans came to Daytona Stadium than the event had ever seen in its history there.
But there was still something more. There was a spirit of brotherly love that was sincerely welcoming — not just to other Ravens, but to everyone. From conversations in airports and on airplanes heading to Daytona Beach, to interaction with the hotel staff and the people of Daytona, and to crowds in bars and restaurants for watch parties, it was clear that Benedictine College is a special place.
And it imparts special traits to its graduates and all who come to know them.
This game was not the end of a season. It was just the next step for a college that is known for quoting Abbot Boniface Wimmer, “Forward. Always Forward. Everywhere Forward.”
We look forward to next season and all that Benedictine College has in store for the world.