By JARED JERNAGAN
CRAWFORDSVILLE -- To anyone who has been to even a single Monon Bell Classic, the intensity of the rivalry is no secret. There is a kind of breathless anticipation preceding every snap and a nervousness which doesn't subside until long after the celebration of the victors.
While Raeburn has his Little Giants undefeated (9-0, 7-0 NCAC) and ranked second in the country, the coach will be experiencing his first Monon Bell game.
"To be honest, on the two campuses, I'm probably the last guy anybody should ask about the Bell week. I'm probably the only person who hasn't experienced one," Raeburn said. "I'm looking forward to it. I won't be able to totally appreciate it until it happens."
Not that Raeburn hasn't seen his share of big games. As an assistant coach at Mount Union, he was part of three national championship teams. In seven years as head coach at Coe College in Iowa, he compiled a 57-26 record and twice led Coe to the Division III playoffs.
While he has already led the Little Giants to the playoffs, the focus this week has been on not letting the huge rivalry overshadow the team's goals in the playoffs.
"I suppose that's probably more likely to happen than the guys looking past the Bell game, but I think our guys are looking forward to it. If you're a player at Wabash or DePauw, you have to feel pretty fortunate that you get to be involved in a game like this because most Division III players never get this chance."
Looking across the field at the Tigers, Raeburn sees an outstanding opponent. DePauw's passing attack has been prolific all year and the coach doesn't expect that to change.
"This is also probably the most talented bunch of receivers that we've faced. That'll be a huge challenge for us, defensively," he added.
Raeburn also said the hard-hitting defense of DePauw will make things tough for his offense.
"From an offensive standpoint, I think they're very physical and I think, from looking at the stats, it seems like they are playing better now than they were early in the season. They've been great down in the red zone all year at keeping teams out of the end zone," he said.
But the biggest thing on the Little Giants' minds will be the 300-pound bell sitting on the DePauw side of the field. Wabash came into the game last year having won for two straight years and lost in a heartbreaker.
"I imagine if you don't have the Bell, you probably cherish it a little more than when you do. I think that's been on all our players' minds. They want to get that thing back," Raeburn said.
And yet, a rivalry is a rivalry. All players, on both sides of the ball, will need no extra incentive to be fired up.
"But the rivalry is so fierce that I don't know that the intensity or anything like that is any less at any given time, whether you won last year or not," Raeburn concluded.