112TH SEASON BEGINS SATURDAY
The Eureka College football team will open its 112th season of football competition Saturday in a 1 p.m. kickoff at home against the Knox Prairie Fire at Pete FioRito Stadium at McKinzie Field in Eureka, Ill. The contest kicks off the seventh season of the Kurt Barth coaching era, as well as Eureka's seventh season as an associate member of the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference.
The game also represents the fourth annual Abraham Lincoln Bowl, recognizing the shared importance in American history of the two liberal arts colleges that were founded by abolitionists. Knox won last season's event to reclaim possession of the traveling trophy, a bronze bust of young Lincoln donated to the two colleges by former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar.
Eureka will return 47 letterwinners from last season's squad, 16 of which were regular starters, when the regular season begins Saturday. Thirty-six newcomers have joined the program. The Red Devils went 2-8 overall last season and 2-7 in UMAC play for an eighth-place league finish.
The Red Devils will try to find their identity on the ground, while continuing its strong passing attack, which has ranked in the top-50 in NCAA Division III in four of the last five seasons and reached as high as 16th in the nation in 2009. The Red Devils have eclipsed the 300-yard mark through the air 13 times since 2009, and five of Eureka's top-10 single-game total offense marks have come in that time frame.
Seven starters return for the Eureka defense that will look to build off last season with the addition of two transfers that should make an immediate impact. Freshman defensive lineman Macae Skaggs(Farmington, Ill./Farmington) a transfer from Western Illinois University, will start at the 3-technique for the Red Devils defense, allowing for senior Austin Blair (Newton, Ill./Newton) to slide down to nose.
Sophomore linebacker Chris Friend (Washington, Ill./Washington) will handle duties at outside linebacker after transferring from St. Xavier University where he saw significant playing time as a true freshman. Friend is a former IHSA 5A All-State linebacker who played under former EC head football coach Darrell Crouch.
Knox will enter Saturday's season opener less than a year removed from a 2-8 overall record and an sixth-place finish in the Midwest Conference South with a 0-5 league mark. KC was picked to finish sixth in the preseason coaches' poll in the new South Division of the MWC.
After two straight rebuilding seasons in Galesburg, head coach Damon Tomeo returns 17 total starters. Sophomore Matt McCaffrey is aiming for an even better season under center after throwing for 1,754 yards and nine touchdowns in 2014. Second Team All-MWC selection Illir Emini was the recipient of 88 passes from McCaffrey and collected 781 yards and five scores. The Prairie Fire also return four offensive lineman.
Sophomore linebacker Cody Hipp had a big season as a freshman and made 56 stops in 2014. Joining him in the second level are returning starters Hamad Alizada, Brock Gabel and Trent Wooten. Sam Coffey will lead the secondary for a second straight season. The senior defensive back made 54 tackles last season and had an interception.
THE HEAD COACHES
Eureka College athletics Hall of Famer Kurt Barth will enter his seventh season as the head coach of the Eureka football program in 2014. Since being hired as the 19th head coach in program history in December 2008, Barth has rejuvenated the EC football program and installed one of the most prolific passing offenses in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference and all of NCAA Division III.
Barth is 3-1 against the Prairie Fire, including a 28-13 victory in his first game as head coach on Sept. 5, 2009. He is also 3-3 in season openers.
Damon Tomeo will enter his fourth season as the head coach of the Knox football team. The Prairie Fire went 2-8 last season under his direction. Tomeo was named the 30th head coach at Knox in December 2012. He was the assistant head coach and defensive coordinator for NCAA Division III Pomona-Pitzer in Claremont, Calif. during the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
Tomeo was the head coach at NCAA Division II Minnesota State-Moorhead from 2006 until 2009, posting a 14-25 record. His 16-year coaching career has also included stints at California Lutheran, Arizona, and Redlands.
ALL-TIME SERIES VERSUS KNOX
Saturday's contest between Eureka and Knox marks the 26th game in the all-time series since their first meeting in Galesburg on Oct. 14, 1893. The Prairie Fire leads the all-time series, 17-7-1.
The two squads are one year removed from Knox's 26-23 victory at a game in which the Prairie Fire scored on a two-yard run with no time left on the clock.
Eureka is 4-5-1 at home against the Prairie Fire. However, a victory Saturday would give the Red Devils their third consecutive home victory over the visitors after triumphs in 2009 (28-13) and 2013 (21-17).
Knox represents the Red Devils' second-oldest Division III rival in program history, trailing only Illinois Wesleyan, although the Red Devils haven't met the Titans in football since 1942. The non-conference series between Eureka and Knox has been renewed for opening weekend through the 2015 season.
Eureka is 33-73-5 all-time in season-opening games. The Red Devils are 21-31-2 all-time when opening the season at home, but have won eight of their last 13 contests when beginning the season at McKinzie Field since 1990.
FOLLOW THE ACTION ON THE INTERNET
A live premium video broadcast of Saturday's game will be available at EurekaRedDevils.com. Visit "Red Devil Vision" under the multimedia tab of the website to subscribe to the broadcast. Live statistics, free of charge, will also be available at EurekaRedDevils.com.
The Eureka sports information staff will also tweet updates throughout the contest on Twitter at @EurekaRedDevils. Follow the hashtags "#ECRedDevils" and "#d3fb" for more information
PRESEASON UMAC POLL
Eureka has been picked to finish seventh in the UMAC in a poll conducted by league coaches last month. Three-time defending UMAC champion St. Scholastica was selected to repeat as champion of the 10-team league.
The Saints received eight of 10 first-place votes for 80 points in the poll, edging Northwestern for the top spot. The Eagles received one first-place votes for 70 points to be picked second, while Greenville grabbed the final first-place votes and was picked third.
Senior offensive tackle Javier Rivera (Chicago, Ill./Taft) and junior kicker Tyler Winders (Pekin, Ill./Pekin) have been named honorable mention preseason All-American according to USA College Football. The Red Devils have now had six All-Americans under seventh-year head coach Kurt Barth.
Rivera anchored a Eureka offensive line that produced 287.2 yards per game and 216.5 passing yards per game last season, third-most in the UMAC. The 2014 campaign marked Rivera's second season as a full-time starter and second time as a member of the All-UMAC Second Team. He will enter his senior season with 21 career starts on the offensive line, entering camp as Eureka's most experienced offensive lineman.
Winders put together one of the best seasons in Eureka College history for a kicker throughout his sophomore campaign. The Pekin native knocked in 6-of-7 field goals, tying him for the most in the UMAC and placing him in a tie for second in the EC football record books for field goals made in a single season. Winders sits at ten career field goals and 49 extra points, both marks place him third all-time in school history.