Preview: Eureka to Visit Knox Saturday in 115th Season Opener

Photo courtesy of Traci Zeibert.
Photo courtesy of Traci Zeibert.
EUREKA -- Eureka will open its 115th season of football Saturday afternoon when the Red Devils make the 64-mile trek to the Knosher Bowl in Galesburg, Ill. for the seventh annual Lincoln Bowl against Knox at 1 p.m.
The Red Devils return 11 starters from last season's team that went 8-3 and qualified for the NCAA Division III playoffs for the first time in program history. Eight starters -- including all starting skill players -- are back from last season's offense that set single-season school records with 401 points and 3,033 rushing yards. Three defensive starters also return for EC.
Knox is looking to build on last fall's 5-5 overall record, the Prairie Fire's best single-season mark since a 6-4 campaign in 2002. Seventeen starters return for a veteran KC group and seven projected starters on defense are seniors.
Saturday's contest is the seventh annual "Lincoln Bowl". Formally established in 2012, the competition recognizes the shared importance of the two liberal arts colleges, each founded by abolitionists, in Abraham Lincoln's life and in American history.
A traveling trophy is awarded to the winning team of the game. The trophy is a bronze bust of young Lincoln presented by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation in Springfield, Ill. It was donated to the two colleges by former Illinois Governor Jim Edgar.
In the midst of a major program renaissance that culminated in the program's first-ever NCAA playoffs bid last year, Eureka will enter the 2018 season with 86 student-athletes on the roster. Thirty-three letterwinners from last season's championship squad have returned for 10th-year head coach Kurt Barth, the winningest head coach in 127 years of Eureka College football.
More than 50 newcomers have joined the program for 2018, another massive recruiting haul for Barth, who regularly welcomes large groups of new student-athletes.
The Red Devils welcome back a ton of firepower from last season's offense that produced new school records of 401 point scored and 3,033 rushing yards. Senior running back Le'Anthony Reasnover leads the attack after putting up 1,875 rushing yards in 2017 to earn postseason All-America honors from the American Football Coaches Association. Reasnover, who was also tabbed a 2018 preseason All-American by, is the active NCAA leader across all three Divisions with 11.6 points scored per game, ranks second among active NCAA players with 55 rushing touchdowns and his 3,849 career rushing yards rank third among active players in all three NCAA Divisions.
Senior offensive tackle Ryan Barth headlines the offensive front after a 2017 campaign that included the program's first-ever All-Region choice for an offensive lineman. The two-time all-conference selection has started all 31 games of his collegiate career.
The quarterback duo of juniors Drew Barth and Nick Holman are back after combining for 108 completions, 1,392 yards and 12 touchdowns last fall. Both signal-callers are threats on the ground as well – Barth's 632 career rushing yards are second-most by an EC quarterback in the modern era and Holman tacked on 214 rushing yards of his own in his first season in maroon and gold.
Eureka's top three receivers from last season also return – senior Dom Parks hauled in 17 balls for a team-best 300 yards in 2017. Sophomores Rhett Rondinelli and Caleb Fauver combined for 30 receptions and 428 yards and four scores. Rondinelli also gives EC a versatile weapon on special teams after piling up 844 all-purpose yards as a freshman.
Senior tackle Macae Skaggs and sophomore cornerback Trevon Moore lead the defense after earning all-league accolades in 2017. Skaggs ranked 65th nationally in 2017 with 8.0 sacks and tallied four interceptions, becoming the first player to lead EC in sacks and interceptions in the same season since Eureka's sack totals were accurately recorded beginning in 2001.
Moore has been one of the pillars of the EC secondary since the day he arrived on campus, earning all-conference First Team honors in each of his first two seasons. His 12 pass breakups last season ranked second in the league and 75th among all Division III defenders. Colton Fauver also returns in the secondary alongside Moore and Antonio Greenwood will rejoin his teammates in the defensive backfield with a clean bill of health after missing all of 2017 due to injury. Greenwood is the active program leader with 60 solo tackles and 537 kickoff return yads.
Eureka inched closer to ushering in its latest era earlier this month when the Red Devils were picked fourth in a preseason Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference poll conducted by league head coaches and sports information directors. Defending champion Lakeland received 12 of a possible 16 first-place votes for 123 points to be chosen as the preseason favorite.
Aurora (105 points) was picked second behind the Muskies with three first-place votes. Benedictine, playing its final season as a member of NCAA Division III and the NACC before its transition to NCAA Division II, was voted third with 88 points. Eureka, which received one of the 16 first-place votes, was slotted fourth with 78 points. Wisconsin Lutheran (66 points) was voted fifth, followed by Concordia (Wis.) (44 points), Concordia (Ill.) (39 points) and Rockford (33 points).
Eureka announced in January its switch to the NACC as a football-only member after a nine-year run as an associate member of the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference.
A veteran group will take the field Saturday for sixth-year head coach Damon Tomeo -- 17 starters are back from last season's team that reached the five-win plateau for the first time since 2002. Of KC's five losses in 2017, three were by 10 points or less.
Ten starters are back on offense alone, but the biggest void to fill will be at the quarterback position -- projected starter and Whittier, Calif. native Jacob Amaro is a newcomer to the program. The only returning player to complete a pass last season was sophomore Garrett Rau, who is expected to start on the defensive side of the ball this Saturday.
Four of the top five tacklers return for Knox, not including 2017 All-Midwest Conference honoree Evan Economos. KC allowed 27.4 points and 386.0 yards per game last season.
Knox is a charter member of the Midwest Conference since 1921 and, like Eureka, first fielded a football team in 1891.
Eureka and Knox will play for the 29th time on Saturday. The two schools first met in 1893, a 22-0 Knox victory in Galesburg. The Prairie Fire ultimately controlled much of the early stages of the series, winning nine of the first 10 meetings between 1893 and 1902.
Following a hiatus in the series that lasted more than eight decades, EC and KC have met 17 times since 1985. The two squads have split those meetings (8-8-1) and Eureka has won five of the last seven against Knox -- all season openers for both squads -- since 2009.
Eureka has played 117 games against active members of the Midwest Conference since a Oct. 14, 1893 meeting with Knox in Galesburg. The Red Devils own a 43-70-4 combined record against the league.
Despite not having met on the gridiron in nearly four decades, Illinois College represents Eureka's most frequent intercollegiate football opponent in 127 years of competition. The Red Devils and Blue Boys played 56 times between 1894 and 1978. IC leads the all-time series, 32-21-3. The Red Devils also own MWC victories over Lawrence and Monmouth.