The Benedictine College Ravens made a historic run through the football playoffs this year and found themselves in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics National Football Championship game in Daytona Beach, Florida.
It was a first in the nearly 100-year history of the team at the Catholic college in Atchison.
On Dec. 15, the Ravens faced the No. 1-ranked and undefeated Morningside College Mustangs, from Sioux City, Iowa, and their NAIA Player of the Year, starting quarterback Trent Solsma.
Cheering on “Mary’s Team,” so named by Benedictine College President Stephen D. Minnis, was the Raven Nation, more than 4,000 strong, the largest crowd in NAIA football championship history. They were cheering and singing the school’s fight song.
The game was hard-fought. Benedictine’s quarterback, Shaefer Schuetz, opened the game with a 42-yard bomb to wide receiver Aaron Jackson that set up the Ravens on the Mustangs’ 27 yard line. Just a few plays later, they were in the end zone and the Ravens had a quick 7-0 lead.
The Ravens and Mustangs were tied 28-28 after a two-point conversion by the Ravens late in the fourth quarter. But with less than 90 seconds left in the game, a turnover led to a touchdown for Morningside and a final score of 35-28.
While in Daytona, the Benedictine College offered daily Mass at the hotel for the team and fans. Minnis led his “Wednesday rosary” at the hotel – a weekly event the Ravens players attended during the entire football season.
In addition, a chapel for eucharistic adoration was set up in the hotel the night before the big game. During the regular season, Schuetz attended eucharistic adoration every Friday before a game.
On top of the prayers and Masses, “the wave of Benedictine spirit that washed over the country was impressive,” the college said in a Dec. 17 news release about the Ravens’ season.
“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. It was the largest Raven reunion ever!” the college said.
“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,” it added. “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.”
“This game was not the end of a season,” the news release said. “It was just the next step for a college that is known for quoting Abbot Boniface Wimmer, ‘Forward. Always Forward. Everywhere Forward.’”