Aurora Defeats Eureka in Long-Awaited Season Opener, 42-7

Photo by Emma Tatro.
Photo by Emma Tatro.

EUREKA – The Eureka football team dropped a 42-7 season opener against Aurora at McKinzie Field on Saturday.

It was the Red Devils' first game in 490 days, and the home team struggled to get much going. Aurora racked up 409 yards of total offense and reached the end zone six times, with quarterback Gavin Zimbelman leading the way. The senior signal-caller threw for 290 yards and five touchdowns and two interceptions.

The Red Devils scored one touchdown early in the second quarter on an 11-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Nathan Garard (Gibson City, Ill./Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley) to freshman Shawn Ratliff (Joliet, Ill./Joliet). It was the first touchdown of the collegiate careers of both players.

That cut the lead in half, making it 14-7 with plenty of time until halftime, but the Spartans answered with a seven-play, 65-yard drive that ended with a 22-yard touchdown pass to Brock Harner to make it a 14-point game again.

Eureka's Malek Folston (Cocoa, Fla./Vera) intercepted Zimbelman on the next Aurora possession, but after getting a big sack and stop on the other side of the ball, Zimbelman found Cameron Moore for a 53-yard touchdown.

The Red Devils' defense came through on the last two Aurora drives of the half. Alexander Brittain (Eureka, Ill./Eureka) – the 2019 Northern Athletic Collegiate Conference Freshman of the Year – got a third-down sack that prompted a punt, and Folston recorded his second pick of the day with a 1:06 left in the half. Folston's pair of picks marked the first time an EC player has had two interceptions in one game since Trevon Moore did it against Concordia Wisconsin on Oct. 27, 2018.

Unfortunately, though, the Eureka offense was unable to produce, and the Red Devils went into the half trailing 28-7.

Aurora scored twice early in the second half to make it 42-7, then gave the ball to backup quarterback Kyle Evert and went to their ground game for the rest of the way.

For Eureka, junior running back Joe Hughes (Normal, Ill./University) rushed for 64 yards on 17 attempts. Pierce Bradford (Decatur, Ill./Argenta-Oreana) caught two passes for 18 yards in the second half.

Junior linebacker Colton Walsberg (Pontiac, Ill./Pontiac) was the team's leading tackler with 11, including seven solos. Sophomore safety Jack Arnett (Princeville, Ill./Princeville) and sophomore linebacker Brendan Durr (Washington, Ill./Washington) each had six, while Jon Jackson (Peoria, Ill./Richwoods) and Kwentin Brookins (Gary, Ind./Westmont) each had four.

The Red Devils (0-1) will look to bounce back on the road next Saturday at Benedictine (1-0). Kickoff for Week 2 is set for 1 p.m.