By Blake Baxter
EUREKA — It's been a rainy couple of days in Eureka, but Kurt Barth would like to remind everyone that the sky isn't falling.
The Red Devils have dropped their past two games — a non-conference shootout in Albion and a somewhat lopsided Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference opener at Aurora — and, while that's disappointing, it's not necessarily an indicator of what's to come.
"I'm not ready to say we've regressed as a program," Eureka's winningest coach in program history said. "We've just got to regroup a little bit to get some things going."
"Any time you lose, it's disappointing. It doesn't matter if it's by one score or three or four — how you respond and how you grow from it is the bigger thing."
Despite the final score of 62-35, the Red Devils were competitive with Aurora early on. But a couple of untimely second-quarter turnovers switched the momentum. And by the time EC had regained its footing, the contest was out of reach.
When practice came around on Monday, Barth and his staff told his players there was no time to dwell on the defeat. It was time to move on. It was time to put desired results and season goals aside, and focus on the process, the tasks at hand.
"We've got to get back to focusing on 'one week at a time,' and what we can control, and what we need to do to get better as a group," Barth said. "Our guys just always have to adjust and move forward."
Just a few days later, the Red Devils are set to take the next step in their season journey. On Saturday, the Red Devils (2-2, 0-1 NACC) will continue NACC play at Wisconsin Lutheran (1-3, 1-0). Kickoff is a 4 p.m.
BUILDING BLOCKS IN AURORA
Yes, the turnovers hurt. The Red Devils didn't muster much out of its running game — just 76 yards. And their pass protection conceded four sacks after only allowing one in the first three games.
Eureka couldn't hide from its flaws and mistakes in Aurora.
However, there were silver linings scattered throughout the day as well, promising building blocks that could be used to construct a better product down the line.
"We got some very good things out of that game," Barth said. "I think our teams played hard all the way through. We were able work on some things toward the end."
The steep deficit gave EC a chance to put its two-minute offense to the test, and quarterback Drew Barth successfully steered the Red Devils up the field for three scores.
There was an 11-play, 68-yard drive that took 3:14, a five-play, 76-yard drive that was completed in 1:20 and an eight-play, 57-yard drive that was over in less than a 2 1/2 minutes.
While this sequence wasn't particularly relevant to the end result on Saturday, it's the kind of thing that could be a deciding factor under more pressing circumstances in the future.
On the other side of the ball, the Red Devils conceded 62 points and 562 yards of total offense, but Barth says if you take a closer look, you'll see a much higher success rate than one would expect.
Those whopping numbers didn't happen because the Red Devils defense was getting beat consistently. Rather, they were the result of maximizing damage during the minority of occasions in which Aurora delivered perfect execution.
"You're going to think I'm crazy for this," the coach said with a laugh, "but their quarterback was 18-of-40, so we had some strong coverage that day and did some very good things. The unfortunate piece is that 7 of those 18 were touchdown passes. And even, out of those seven, three were pretty well-contested plays where our guys were right there and did everything they could, but the quarterback dropped the ball in the right spot and the receivers went up and got it.
"Sometimes you play a team that's a little better than you that day."
Eureka is heading into this one with a 2-2 record on the season and an 0-1 record in the NACC. Last year's NACC champions are hungrily seeking their first win of the conference season.
The Red Devils' offense reached the 450 total yards mark for the fourth straight game last week, but fell shy of 40 points for the first time all year.
Still, EC remains second in the NACC and 13th nationally with 498 yards per game. The team is also second in the NACC and fifth in the nation in passing yards per game (348.5) and fourth in rushing yards (158.5).
Quarterback Drew Barth is up to third in the nation in total offense per game (366.8) and fourth in the nation in passing yards per game (348.5). He is second behind Aurora's Gavin Zimebelman in the league in both yards per game (348.5) and passing touchdowns (18).
His top target, James Douglas III, leads the league and is second in the nation with 162.5 receiving yards per game. He's also leading the NACC with 10 receiving touchdowns, and is up to third in the nation in all-purpose yards (194.75) and fourth in the nation in overall receiving yards (650), as well as scoring (15).
Eureka has one more conference statistical leader on the other side of the ball, as Jon Jackson is at the top the table with Concordia Chicago's Matt Henning.
Linebackers Austin McCarty, Mason Diederich and Amari Smith are averaging around five tackles per game, totaling 23, 20 and 19 total tackles, respectively. Jackson has a team-high total tackles for loss and Nehemiah Buteler has hauled in a team-leading pair of interceptions.
Also a key factor in EC's success, kicker/punter Tanner Kuhne is 2-for-2 on field goals, 21-for-22 on extra point attempts and averaging 35.3 yards per punt.
ABOUT WISCONSIN LUTHERAN
The Warriors will welcome Eureka to Raabe Stadium after earning its first win of the season last week at Rockford.
Prior to that, the team dropped a competitive 27-15 contest against Lake Forest, fell into a first-half hole it couldn't get out of in a 34-14 loss at at Lawrence Tech and got edged 32-29 in double overtime at Adrian in the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association-NACC Challenge.
But in the first week of October, quarterback Nick Yockey threw four touchdown passes to help lead the Warriors to a 27-13 triumph over Rockford to open NACC play.
Yockey, a freshman who is third in the NACC in both passing yards per game (280) and total passing touchdowns (10), finished 21-for-39 for 217 yards, while fellow freshman Brevin Jegerlehner had a breakout day, rushing 16 times for 137 yards.
Barth says Yockey and Jerlehner are talented kids that have filled in well for departed veterans in those skill positions.
The Warriors' size and strength is another team strength. Offensive linemen Connor Young, Trent Deans, Logan Kehoe, Jacob Zimmerman and Parker Byard all range from 6-foot to 6-5. The lightest one is (Zimmerman) is 265 pounds. The heaviest (Byard) is 325.
"We're going to have to be ready for the run and the pass," Barth said. "They're very similar to us, in terms of formations and what they're trying to do. So it's been a week for us where, again, we could really focus on what we do. And try to do it well for both scout looks."
Led by the NACC Defensive Student-Athlete of the Week Mykael Ignaszak, WLC's defense forced three turnovers The junior defensive back made a career-high 19 tackles (nine solo) in the game. He also contributed 2.5 tackles for loss, including a pair of sacks. Jade Burge and senior CJ Grahn added 11 tackles and an interception each.
As a team, Wisconsin Lutheran is third in the league in passing yards per game (281.5), fifth in the league in total yards per game (342.3) and eighth in rushing yards per game (60.8).
The Warriors have allowed the fewest yards per game of any team in the conference at 24.1, leading in both passing yards per game (144.8) and rushing (96.3).
"Defensively, they've changed their scheme a little bit," Barth said. "They've got some guys that are going to present some problems for us up front. We're going to have to do a better job of obviously the pass pro."
Last season was the first time these teams had ever met. EC notched 499 yards of total offense, two-time All-America running back posted 283 all-purpose yards while scoring six touchdowns and the Red Devils improved to 5-0 for the first time since 1991 with a 54-35 victory.