Toughest Challenge Yet Awaits Red Devils in Albion, Michigan

Toughest Challenge Yet Awaits Red Devils in Albion, Michigan
By Blake Baxter
 
EUREKA — After two memorable home triumphs to start the season, Eureka coach Kurt Barth and the Red Devils are ready to hit the road for their toughest test of the season yet. 
 
"Our home atmosphere is fantastic," Barth said, "but part of the fun of college football is playing at places that you haven't been and getting to see places that you don't normally see."
 
This weekend's destination is Albion, Michigan, a place the Red Devils have never played. 
 
When EC takes on Albion College on Saturday at 12 p.m., it will be the first-ever meeting between the two sides in their programs' respective histories – and the Red Devils' first road game in the state of Michigan in a half-century. 
 
 
They'll be seeking their first-ever win in the state. The maroon and gold previously dropped a 62-7 contest to Northwood in 1969 and haven't been back since.
 
EC's move into the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference last season guaranteed there won't be that kind of wait in between visits this time around. Every season, NACC teams participate in a conference crossover series with teams from the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association. 
 
The Red Devils took care of Finlandia, 34-12, on their home turf in the Challenge Series last season, and now, they'll play their first road showdown of the series against one of the conference's most storied programs.
 
Albion is one of only two charter members of the nation's oldest collegiate athletic conference. Since 1884, the Britons have captured 36 MIAA conference titles, and in 1994, they earned the NCAA Division III national championship. 
 
Barth is well aware of the program's success.
 
"Albion has a rich tradition," he said. "When I was a GA (graduate assistant) at Defiance College, we played up there, and actually, the coach that I GA'd under at Defiance was the D Coordinator at Albion when they won their national championship.
 
"It's certainly a great opponent. They're a very good football team, and it's going to be a great matchup."
 
EC is looking to start the season 3-0 for the second season in a row and the eighth time in program history
 
Albion enters the game 2-0 after dispatching Defiance 56-6 in its season opener and besting Franklin 48-26 on the road last week.
 
The Britons, selected tied for second with Trine in the MIAA preseason poll behind Hope, racked up the third-most yards of total offense (534) in Division III last season, and are at 454 yards per game through two contests this season. They're currently averaging 52 points per game – eight points more than the pace that put them within the top seven teams last year. 
 
Third-year starting quarterback Kyle Thomas has a strong arm and great footwork in and outside of the pocket. In two games, he's thrown for 368 yards, nine touchdowns and three interceptions while adding 51 yards per game on the ground. 
 
Last week, he completed 22 of 30 passes for 272 yards and six touchdowns, tying a school record.
 
Senior running back Markell McCoy rushed for 153 yards and a touchdown in the season-opening rout and added 73 yards last week. Barth says he has "great balance and strength," and will be tough to bring down. 
 
The offensive line protecting them weighs in at an average of 265 pounds, and the Britons' receiving corps. features four players who have already hauled in seven or more receptions. Justin Thomas, the quarterback's younger brother, has led the way with 10 catches for 156 yards and four touchdowns. 
 
All told, there's going to be a lot of weapons to neutralize, on an unfamiliar terrain, where the opposition will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of the program's greatest success.
 
"Our defense," Barth said, "we think, is up for a challenge."
 
DREW BARTH PUTTING UP BIG NUMBERS EARLY
 
Drew Barth knew that there was going to be a different weight on him this season. 
And through two weeks of the season, he's looked quite capable of bearing it.
 
The senior quarterback from Minonk, Illinois, enters Week 3 of the 2019 season with a 209.7 passer rating, moving his career passer rating to 142.5. — fourth in program history. 
 
Although the sample size is miniscule enough to make season projections seem a little silly at this point, it's still impressive to note that if he keeps this pace, he'd be only the second Red Devil to finish above 200.
 
He's also averaging 295.5 yards, 19 completions and 4.5 touchdowns per game and has only thrown one interception.
 
"This is the most comfortable I've felt," Drew Barth said. "Coach Barth and Coach Murph (Offensive coordinator Morgan Murphy) trust me. Our receivers are doing a great job catching it, even if it's a bad throw. Our line is stepping up. 
 
"Performance-wise, it's been good obviously, but it can always improve still."
 
His coach and uncle has been impressed with the way he's handled the added responsibility of running an explosive passing offense. 
 
"He's done a very nice job of staying within the offense and really not forcing the issue on throws," Coach Barth said. 
 
One aspect of his game that has stood out to the coach has been his ability to move in the pocket, escape pressure and make difficult throws on the run.
 
"Even going to the left," Coach Barth said, "he can create different angles where he gets the ball off and you're like 'Wow, how did he get that there?'"
 
Drew Barth is currently fifth on the Red Devils' all-time list in career passing touchdowns (35) and sixth in passing yards (2,793) and completions (302). If he keeps this up, expect to see his name continue to climb.
 
TANNER KUHNE BECOMES EC's EXTRA POINT KING, NACC SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE WEEK 
 
For the second time in as many weeks, Tanner Kuhne was named the NACC Special Teams Player of the Week.  A week after the senior differentiated himself from the field by running 21 yards for a first down when a planned punt fell through, Kuhne made news for his consistency over time.
 
In the first quarter after Eureka's second touchdown of the night, the Red Devils' kicker placed the ball between the uprights and became EC's all-time leader in extra points. It was the 109th time he'd come through for the maroon and gold in that situation, one more than previous leader Travis Huber (2009-'12).
 
"I've got to give a lot of credit to Le'Anthony Reasnover for scoring so many touchdowns," Kuhne said with a laugh. "On top of that, I've got to give Nick Holman a shout-out, as well as Jed Vance, both of my holders for the past few seasons.
 
"Besides that, I'm basically just grateful to Coach Barth for giving me the opportunity to play."
 
Coach Barth remembers when Kuhne came in as an enthusiastic, emotional freshman eager to prove himself.
 
Said Barth: "We were up front and told him, 'Hey, Tyler's (Tyler Winders) here, come in a year, get some things under your belt and there will be some very good things that happen for you.' Tanner was patient. And that offseason after his freshman year, he worked really hard to get better coming in as a sophomore, and he's continuously improved ever since."
 
When his historic moment came on Saturday, Kuhne said he was trying not to think about it. 
 
"But once I got out there and kicked it, it was pretty special," he said. "Especially when (announcer) Coach (Craig) Gerdes announced it about the history, it kind of gave me the chills."
 
FRESHMEN ALEX BRITTAIN, SAM WALTER MAKE AN IMPACT

In Week 1's Lincoln Bowl win over Knox, established veterans did most of the heavy lifting for the Red Devils.

In last week's victory over MacMurray, though, EC started to see freshmen newcomers make a significant impact.

For instance, Eureka High School product Alexander Brittain introduced himself to Red Devil fans by coming off the bench and making four tackles and two sacks.

His first career tackle was a sack for a loss of four yards toward end of the first quarter when Eureka held only a seven-point lead. The second came on the last play of the first half and prevented the Highlanders from responding, allowing EC to take a 14-point lead into the break.

"I guess going in I didn't expect the (first) sack to happen," Brittain said. "And then once I got the sack, it kind of brought my confidence up and got me hype."

An outside linebacker in high school, Brittain said he'd never had a sack before.

"It's just a different feeling," Brittain said. "And yeah, I like it. Made me all warm and fuzzy."

Coach Barth says to look for more to come.

"Alex has got potential to be one of the best guys we've had on our D-Line here," he said. "We're very high on his athleticism."

On the other side of the ball, Washington product Sam Walter accumulated 176 all-purpose yards — a team-high excluding the quarterback — and scored his first career rushing touchdown.

"Sam certainly showed his speed and athleticism," Barth said. "It gives us a different element with that burst."

His performance was yet another example of EC's depth in the backfield after senior graduate transfer Grant Jochums' surprise emergence in Week 1.

It will come in handy in Albion.

OTHER WEEK 2 NOTABLES

  • Nehemiah Butler made his second interception of the year (on a pass tipped by Colton Walsberg) and led the Red Devils with six total tackles.
  • Adrian Walker, a senior transfer, came off the bench, made three tackles and provided good 1-on-1 coverage in the secondary.
  • Wesley Burris recorded his first touchdown of the season on a 5-yard reception and continued to be play a critical role at fullback, finishing with three receptions on the night.
  • James Douglas III had another strong week with eight receptions for 111 yards and one touchdown, and got a key block from fellow receiver Caleb Fauver as he switched fields en route to the end zone on the Red Devils' first touchdown of the game. Fauver finished with four receptions for 50 yards and a touchdown, and Pierce Bradford added two receptions for 20 yards and one touchdown.