By Blake Baxter
EUREKA — Last Saturday was the kind of day that is going to be fondly remembered in Eureka football lore.
The Red Devils' 50-49 nail-biter of a victory over Lakeland didn't clinch a title or dramatically shake up their place in the standings. But it was tangible proof of the resilience and perseverance this squad has forged this season.
"Obviously it's good to get on the top side of one of those close games, especially for a young team and a team that's played through some injuries and had some other things not go their way," EC coach Kurt Barth said. "The previous two weeks the games were winnable for us, and we just didn't make plays at the right times, but it was good that we did that, and that we did that against a very good football team.
"To hang on and close it out against a team like that is a great thing. It's something for the young guys to build on as they continue to move forward in the program, and it's something that for this season was a huge win for the senior group."
Despite getting hit with a barrage of big plays from the Muskies, the Eureka defense held Lakeland out of the end zone three times when it had the ball in scoring position. There were critical plays in special teams — a 24-yard field goal by Tanner Kuhne and a 58-yard kick return by Kwentin Brookins stood out. And the offense was able to match Lakeland's manic scoring pace when it needed to put points on the board, and extend drives when it needed to manage the clock.
And these Red Devils aren't finished growing just yet.
On Saturday at 1 p.m., Eureka (4-4, 2-3 NACC) will take McKinzie Field for the final home game of the regular season, hosting Concordia Wisconsin (4-4, 2-3 NACC) in Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference play.
For 15 seniors, it will be the last time they put on the pads and sport maroon and gold in front of their home fans.
"It's always an emotional day," Barth said. "It doesn't matter what sport it is, what college it is, the fact that you're having some people play their last home game at your institution … that means something.
"It will be a tough one emotionally. It will be a tough one physically – Concordia Wisconsin is a very good football team, so we're going to have to be ready to play."
About Concordia Wisconsin
Concordia Wisconsin holds a 19-9-1 advantage over the Red Devils in the all-time series, and have won 12 of the past 13 meetings against the Red Devils.
However, the Falcons weren't able to continue their winning streak over EC last season. With 19 seconds remaining, EC All-American running back Le'Anthony Reasnover spun away from contact behind the line of scrimmage and raced to the end zone for the game-winning 4-yard touchdown run to seal a 48-45 victory in Mequon, Wisconsin.
That dramatic conclusion handed the Falcons' their first loss of the season and put Eureka in the driver's seat to seize the conference title.
A lot has changed since then, though. Just as the Red Devils lost Le'Anthony Reasnover to graduation and had to re-tool their approach, the Falcons graduated its standout quarterback, Aaron Nixon, and have been forced to piece together a new team identity.
Concordia Wisconsin enters with a 4-4 record in the conference and a 2-3 mark in league play.
The Falcons opened league play with three straight losses, falling to Benedictine (in overtime), getting shutout by Lakeland and bested by Aurora. But in the past two weeks, they have dispatched Concordia Chicago 34-15 and Rockford 41-27.
Last week, the Falcons accumulated a season-high 529 total offensive yards (312 passing, 217 rushing) on 89 plays for an average of 5.9 yards. They also ended up 4-of-5 on red-zone opportunities.
The Falcons are sixth in the league in total offense, posting 337.4 yards per game. They're also sixth in both total rushing (1,230) and passing (4,469) yards.
Sophomore quarterback James Linn is fourth in the NACC in passing yards per game with 182.5, and fifth in passing touchdowns with 11. His top target, sophomore receiver Tanner Hill, averages 68.4 receiving yards per game and has hauled in seven touchdowns.
The squad's top rusher is junior Matt Montgomery, who has tallied 670 rushing yards and seven touchdowns.
Concordia Wisconsin has allowed the fewest points per game this season in the NACC at 20.6, and the fourth-fewest yards per game at 351.
In the win over Rockford, the team made three interceptions, with Josiah McDermit hauling in two. He has a team-high four on the season.
James Douglas III Receives NACC, D3football.com Honors
This was the first time a Red Devil player received both honors in the same week since Le'Anthony Reasnover did it on Oct. 30, 2018.
Douglas, the NACC's leading receiver at 123.1 yards per game with a league-high 14 touchdown receptions, chalked up four total touchdowns in Eureka's 50-49 NACC victory over Lakeland on Saturday.
The senior racked up a career-high 216 receiving yards and three touchdowns on just six receptions, scoring on receptions of 48, 16 and 65, yards, respectively. He also added a touchdown run and contributed 88 yards on four kickoff returns, giving him 309 all-purpose yards on the day.
It was the first 200-yard receiving performance by a Red Devil since Jordan Kindred (235) and Jake Bane (207) both did it at Knox during Sam Durley's record-setting 736-yard passing game on Sept. 2, 2012. It was also the seventh-most yards tallied by a Red Devil in a single-game in program history, and the fourth time this season Douglas has scored at least three touchdowns in a game.
Douglas is currently sixth in NCAA Division III in total receiving yards this season with 985.
This was Eureka's fifth NACC Player of the Week award this season. Kicker/punter Tanner Kuhne has been named NACC Special Teams Player of the Week three times and quarterback Drew Barth and was selected NACC Offensive Player of the Week once.
Drew Barth Rises in the Record Book
With two games remaining in his collegiate career, quarterback Drew Barth's name is creeping closer and closer to the top of the list in several statistical categories.
Last week's showing was one of Barth's best of the season. He threw for 309 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 73 yards and two more scores to finish with 382 all-purpose yards and six TDs on the day.
By the time it was all over, Barth was second in one stat category and third in two others.
He is currently second in career passing touchdowns behind only EC assistant coach Sam Durley (2009-12). Barth has 50 to Durley's 61.
With 408 completions, he is only 14 behind EC Hall of Famer Nick Lindsey (2006-09) for second, and with 5,251 yards, he is only 293 yards behind Lindsey for second in career passing yards as well.
His coach and uncle says that he went through some growing pains as an underclassmen, but all told, he's done everything the Red Devils have needed him to do the past four years.
"If you compare him to other quarterbacks, he doesn't have the strongest arm in the group," Coach Barth said, "but what he does is, he has a quick release, a great understanding of the game, and I think for the most part, he's aware of his abilities, so he know what he's got to do to be effective.
"He's been everything we thought he could be, and he's done everything we could ask for, and really as grown as a person," Coach Barth said, "As have a lot of our guys."