EUREKA — For the sixth time in eight years, the Eureka football team is the Lincoln Bowl champion.
The Red Devils were tied with Knox at 14-14 at halftime on Saturday, but the maroon and gold outscored the Prairie Fire 28-14 in the second half to seal a 42-28 season-opening victory under the lights of McKinzie Field.
"That was awesome," senior quarterback Drew Barth said. "Under the lights, first game of the year. We had some adversity, but everybody did a great job stepping up. Jimmy (Douglas III) was catching everything I was throwing to him. The receivers, the O-line — everybody did a great job. It was just a phenomenal night."
Barth (Minonk, Ill./Fieldcrest) racked up a career-high 357 yards on 18-for-25 passing and posted a career-high five touchdowns. Three of his scores were deep balls to senior receiver James Douglas III (Orlando, Fla./Deltona), including the first offensive play of the game.
It was the first time a Red Devil tossed five touchdown passes in a single-game since EC strength and wellness coordinator Sam Durley did it in his record-breaking Lincoln Bowl performance against Knox on Sept. 1, 2012. It was also the first time an EC quarterback tallied 300-plus passing yards since Blake Robles did so against Iowa Wesleyan in 2014.
On the first play, Barth rolled out of the pocket and found Douglas streaking down the right side for a 67-yard touchdown to put the Red Devils on the board early.
"We ran it all week," Barth said. "I had some pressure I had to escape and then Jimmy just got behind the safety. I trusted him enough to throw it up there and he did the rest."
"My quarterback believed in me and we executed it," Douglas added.
Douglas finished with a career-high 197 yards on a career-high seven receptions. His three-touchdown haul was the first time a Red Devil had done it since Austin Zirkle in 2015.
The Red Devils conceded a 7-yard touchdown run by Knox QB Grant Graham just over three minutes later to tie the game at 7-all, but Barth found Douglas again for a 45-yard touchdown reception with 2:58 left in the quarter.
Knox evened the score with 3:36 left in the half on a 35-yard touchdown pass by Garahm to Tyrese Reed to knot the score at 14-all. However, with 10:36 left in the third quarter, Nehemiah Butler (Elmwood, Ill./Elmwood) picked off a pass deflected by Austin McCarty (Oakwood, Ill./Oakwood), which led to a six-play, 42-yard drive that ended with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Caleb Fauver (Catlin, Ill,./Salt Fork).
That was the first of three Red Devils scores in the third quarter.
Reserve running back Grant Jochums (Minonk, Ill./Fieldcrest) scored his first touchdown as a Red Devil on a 25-yard run with 6:45 left in the third quarter to give EC a two-score lead. Then, after the Eureka defense forced a turnover on downs, Barth delivered a 66-yard bomb to Piece Bradford (Decatur, Ill./Argenta-Oreana) with a 1:27 left in the frame.
Douglas scored his last TD of the night on a 48-yard pass from Barth with 12:09 left.
Jochums, a senior transfer, amassed 78 rushing yards and one score on 15 carries. Kicker Tanner Kuhne (Princeton, Ill./Princeton) was 6-for-6 on extra points and made a 21-yard run for a first down on a fake punt in the second half.
Defensively, linebackers Mason Diederich (Washington, Ill./Washington) and Austin McCarty (Oakwood, Ill./Oakwood) each had a team-high eight total tackles. Amari Smith (Hazel Crest, Ill./Hillcrest) and Jon Jackson (Peoria, Ill./Richwoods) both had six, with Jackson notching 1 ½ sacks and Smith recording one as well.
Senior transfer Adrian Walker (St. Louis, Mo./Parkway North) recorded an interception in his Red Devils debut.
Drew Barth said that the score was closer than they would have liked, but that every team deals with first-game jitters, and the Red Devils are only going to build from here.
After getting a win in trying circumstances, EC coach Kurt Barth's message after the game was about perseverance and lessons learned.
"Very proud," Douglas said of his coach. "He prepped us really well. He knew what we were gonna do, and he was glad we stepped up."