Just give them a chance

CCU’s Christian Williams breaks away for a 77-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter against Thomas More.

Thomas More and Cincinnati Christian play for their hearts, deliver entertaining afternoon

By John Herndon, 110forChrist.com

There was a time in my football-loving life when you would not have found me at a game between a couple of NAIA teams.

You’ve undoubtedly heard the tired and cruel old joke about No Ability In Athletics or the put-downs about the game at the small college level. And, there is a large segment of football fandom adhering to the idea “If it ain’t Division I, it ain’t college football.”  I know. I was part of that group at one time.

And I was soooooo wrong.

Thomas More’s Da’Marco Canty (6) celebrates after returning a punt for a touchdown.

There I was Saturday, standing on the sidelines at Stargel Stadium, a superb high school football facility on the campus of Taft High School in Cincinnati. I was there for Cincinnati Christian University’s home game against Thomas More University.

And even though Thomas More registered a 35-19 win over CCU, a school from which I have a Master of Arts degree, I can’t imagine an afternoon being much more enjoyable.

No, there were not 80,000 people in the stands like I saw Saturday night when South Carolina spanked Kentucky on national television. My guess was maybe 400 people were scattered through a 3,000-seat stadium.

But this was real college football. Yes, real football.

You know, the kind of game where most college players line up on Saturday afternoons in the fall. While the select few play in the big-time stadiums where ESPN or Fox or CBS sends cameras every week, most young men fortunate enough to play beyond high school toil in the relative obscurity of the game at the NCAA’s Division II or III or the NAIA, just like Thomas More and Cincinnati Christian.

Admittedly, I had to continually check the rosters for names, sizes and hometowns, but if given a chance, these guys can be mighty entertaining. I can’t say whether there will ever be a big rivalry between the schools, which are separated by 12 miles in the Greater Cincinnati area. Cincinnati Christian’s program is in just its fourth year and this was the first time the schools had met. 

Cincinnati Christian’s Taquan Williams (31) celebrates with his teammates after Williams intercepted a pass to prevent a score.

But Saturday afternoon, the teams combined for 52 first downs and 925 yards of offense. Five of the eight touchdowns came on plays of 12 yards or better, with CCU scoring on a 73-yard pass and an 80-yard run. Another score for Thomas More, came on a punt return. 

And with no television coverage other than a couple of Cincinnati stations shooting pictures for highlights on the evening news, the game was over in less than three hours.

No, these guys weren’t the kind who would make Nick Saban or Dabo Swinney drop in for a visit, Most of the guys suited up Saturday were 25 pounds too light or a step slow. But the passion burns just as hot in their hearts and the outcome is just as important to them.

All they want is a chance to play the game they love and are thankful for the chance.

I wouldn’t be totally honest if I said a game between two small schools in the Cincinnati area holds the same allure as, say, Bama-Clemson or Ohio State-Michigan. There’s so much tradition and pageantry in the major conferences and a fan is going to follow them on the road to a bowl or national championship.

But the guys in the smaller colleges deserve a look.

For the high school player, these programs offer the ticket to a college degree and experiencing campus life. To the fan, programs like Cincinnati Christian and Thomas More provide an opportunity to be close to a team and enjoy time together.

Just let the games keep going on.

Thomas More tight end Mason Kramer hangs on to a pass for the Saints’ first score against Cincinnati Christian on Sept. 28 in Cincinnati. (All photos by John Herndon)

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