Tuesday night, however, allowed both Midwestern teams to relax and enjoy some southern cooking as First Baptist Church of Rome and St. Mary’s Catholic Church hosted welcome dinners for the special visitors.
The two teams will face off in the NAIA Football National Championship game Thursday, capping off a host of special events for the players and coaches.
Marian senior Brandon Sherman raved about the meal served up by St. Mary’s Knights of Columbus that included prime rib, potatoes and either pecan or sweet potato pie.
“The whole meal was fantastic,” Sherman said. “It’s definitely one of the finer meals we’ve had this season on the road.”
Students from St. Mary’s Catholic School, members of the Columbian Squires, served as waiters for the evening and were bustling around the room bringing out desserts and taking empty plates as the players finished.
“Everyone has been very polite. It’s been great,” said Marian junior Clifford Brown. “They had more than enough food for us.”
Deacon Stuart Neslin, parish administrator at St. Mary’s, said they were excited to be able to serve the group of young men.
“We’re absolutely thrilled to host one of the teams this year,” Neslin said. “This was a parish-wide effort that involved the work of five different parish organizations to help pull it off.”
The evening concluded with Marian head coach Ted Karras Jr. thanking the people who helped put the dinner together and encouraging the kids if they had any questions.
What followed was a fun moment for the team as questions included who had the best hairstyle, who had the most sacks and who had the best moustache.
Juniors Brad Knipfel and Grant Melcher were working to decide what part of the evening they liked the best.
“The prime rib was really good. The potatoes were good too,” Knipfel said. “I mean, really everything was.”
“I don’t know who set all this up but they were thinking about us,” Melcher said.
First Baptist Church of Rome hosted the Morningside College team for an evening of fellowship, camaraderie and a hearty meal. Junior Tyler Sinsabaugh tucked into the spread of steak and potatoes with relish.
“Best steak I’ve ever had in my life,” said Sinsabaugh. “We heard it was going to be steak and potatoes but I didn’t think it would be this good.”
His teammate, junior Jordan Sitzmann, said he enjoyed the food and southern hospitality.
“Everyone we met has been really nice and treated us like family,” said Sitzmann.
Head coach Steve Ryan led the team in a huddle-like cheer to thank First Baptist for hosting them and advised his players to eat well and stay hydrated for Thursday’s game against Marian University.
“Take care of your body,” said Ryan. “It’s what you’re going to be using Thursday night.”
Kickoff for the national title game is set for 6:30 p.m.
IF YOU GO
What: The 57th annual NAIA Football National Championship game
When: Thursday, Dec. 13, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Barron Stadium
Admission: Tickets cost $25; visit www.naianationalchampionship.com to purchase tickets.
Note: The pedestrian bridge between The Forum civic center and West Third Street will remain closed this week because of construction at the Town Green.
Staff writer Brittany Hannah contributed to this report.