Preview: Eureka Readies For Aurora in NACC Debut

Photo courtesy of Michelle Curl.
Photo courtesy of Michelle Curl.
EUREKA -- The Eureka College football team will turn the page to a new era Saturday night when the Red Devils host Aurora in a 7 p.m. kickoff at Pete FioRito Stadium at McKinzie Field. The matchup with the Spartans renews an old rivalry with AU that dates back to 1939 and also represents EC's first-ever Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference game.
The only remaining unbeaten team in the NACC and one of only 42 remaining unbeaten teams in NCAA Division III, Eureka has opened up the campaign with a 3-0 record for the sixth time in program history and the first time since 1991.
The Eureka offense ranks second in the NACC and 20th nationally with 486.3 yards per game. The group is largely driven by its trademark ground attack that has produced an average of 313.0 yards through the non-conference schedule.
Senior running back Le'Anthony Reasnover will take the field Saturday night as the nation's 11th-ranked rusher with 462 yards through his first three contests in 2018. The Momence, Ill. native is the active Division III leader with 4,311 career rushing yards and leads all active NCAA players with 64 career rushing touchdowns.
Defensively, the Red Devils rank first in the NACC and 24th in Division III with 249.3 yards allowed per game. The EC run defense has been especially stout, limiting the opposition to 32.7 yards per game, the fourth-lowest average in the country.
Five different Red Devils have made at least 10 tackles, led by 14 stops by junior linebacker Austin McCarty. Sophomore lineman Jon Jackson has a team-high 4.0 of the Red Devils' 31 tackles for loss and freshman linebacker Cameron Lucas paces the group with 2.5 sacks.
In the midst of a major program renassance that culminated in the program's first-ever NCAA playoffs bid last year, Eureka entered 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 fifty newcomers have joined the program for 2018, another massive recruiting haul for Barth, who regularly welcomes large groups of student-athletes.
Le'Anthony Reasnover scored all five touchdowns, Antonio Greenwood recorded a sack and an interception and Eureka defeated Finlandia 34-12 as part of the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference-Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association Challenge Series on Sept. 15 at McKinzie Field.
Reasnover produced 258 all-purpose yards, including 178 yards on the ground and an 80-yard touchdown reception from Drew Barth. His effort allowed the Red Devils to pile up 399 yards on just 49 plays from scrimmage, an average of 8.1 yards per play.
The Eureka defense was on the field for more than 36 minutes, but held the visitors to 277 yards. Austin McCarty made a game-high eight tackles, including 1.5 sacks. Greenwood's interception was the second of his career and thwarted a second-quarter drive from the Lions.
Aurora remains in search of its first victory in 2018. The Spartans are 0-3 after suffering non-conference losses to St. Norbert (16-7), Elmhurst (21-20) and Adrian (27-5). AU will be playing on the road Saturday for the first time since its season opener on Sept. 1.
The Spartans' scoring offense of 10.7 points per game ranks last among NACC teams and 228th in Division III. Sophomore quarterback Gavin Zimbelman is 52-for-106 with a touchdown and four interceptions for a 91.85 rating. Junior Connor Olson is the top rusher at 233 yards and three scores and senior Sean Mullen leads the receiving corps with 10 grabs for 163 yards.
Aurora has limited opponents to 21.3 points per game to rank 83rd nationally. Cole Sinn, a junior linebacker from Heyworth, Ill., lead the Spartans with 29 total tackles and 4.0 tackles for loss through the non-conference schedule. Casey Dycus and Kam Ryan each have an interception.
Rick Ponx is in his fifth season as head coach at Aurora. Ponx, who owns a 15-28 record since taking the reins of the program prior to the 2014 season, guided AU to the 2016 NACC championship. A graduate of nearby Elmhurst, Ponx owns previous coaching experience as an assistant at Ohio Northern (1988-2003) and North Central (Ill.) (2004-12).
Aurora University, located 40 miles southwest of downtown Chicago, competes as a charter full-time member of the NACC. Approximately 5,600 degree-seeking students attend the instituion on campuses in Aurora, Woodstock, Ill. and Williams Bay, Wis.
Saturday's game marks the 18th all-time meeting between Eureka and Aurora since 1939. The Spartans lead the all-time series, 14-2-1, and have won 13 in a row over the Red Devils since a 16-6 victory in Chicagoland on Oct. 4, 1947. The Red Devils are in search of their first win over AU since a 20-6 triumph on Oct. 5, 1946.
The two schools competed as rivals in the now-defunct Illini-Badger Football Conference from 1998 through 2007, a 10-year stretch in which the Spartans won all 10 meetings.
Aurora will be competing at McKinzie Field for the first time since Oct. 27, 2007, a 55-degree afternoon in which the Spartans defeated the Red Devils 30-3. AU sophomore Ryne Reder, who finished the day with 160 rushing yards, scored a pair of second-quarter touchdowns that allowed AU to turn a slim one-possession lead into a 23-3 cushion at halftime.
Jacob Wall's 28-yard field goal in the first quarter represented EC's only score of the day. Four Eureka defenders were credited with at least 10 tackles, including 13 stops and 3.0 tackles for loss by Michael Mosely.
While Eureka will play a full seven-game schedule against NACC opponents for the first time in 2018, the Red Devils are 1-3 against active members of the NACC since the league was founded in 2008. EC defeated Concordia (Ill.) 28-8 at McKinzie Field on Sept. 13, 2008 for their lone win over a NACC opponent.
Aurora's trip to Eureka this Saturday night will be just the third visit by an active member of the NACC since 2008, joining CUC's 2008 visit and a 2010 matchup with Benedictine.
Overall, Eureka is 57-104-6 (.359) in 167 previous meetings against NACC opponents. Many of those games were played during Eureka's 32-year membership (1976-2007) in the Illini-Badger Football Conference, a time frame in which the Red Devils competed as league rivals with current NACC members Aurora, Benedictine, Concordia (Ill.), Concordia (Wis.) and Lakeland.