Preview: Red Devils Kick Off NCAA Playoffs at St. Thomas

Photo courtesy of Traci Zeibert.
Photo courtesy of Traci Zeibert.
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Eureka College football team will return to the national postseason for the first time in more than two decades when the Red Devils travel to #4/#4 St. Thomas (Minn.) for a noon kickoff Saturday at O'Shaughnessy Stadium in St. Paul, Minn. The contest against the Tommies is Eureka's first-ever NCAA Division III playoff game and its first postseason game since playing in the 1994 NAIA Division II tournament.
 
 
 
ABOUT EUREKA
The winner of eight consecutive games for the first time in 21 years and the outright champion of the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference, the Eureka College football team finished the 2017 regular season with an 8-2 overall record and an 8-1 mark in league competition. The Red Devils are making their third national postseason appearance and their first NCAA playoffs appearance.
 
The EC offense has been driven by a dominant rushing attack that shattered the program's single-season yardage record. The Red Devils have churned out a school-record 2,987 rushing yards in 2017, smashing the previous program record by more than 700 yards. The Red Devils produced 4,322 yards of total offense, EC's highest team total since 1995 and the second-highest total in program history. EC has also averaged 39.3 points per game, put up 40 points or more six times and hit the 60-point plateau for the first time since 2012 in a 63-26 win over Martin Luther on Nov. 4.
 
The efficient ground game, anchored by a veteran offensive line, allows Eureka to lead the nation in fewest sacks allowed (three) and time of possession per game (36:37).
 
On the other side of the ball, the Eureka defense has frustrated opponents all season and has allowed only 257.1 yards per game, 14th-fewest in Division III. The Red Devils have allowed only  119 first downs in 2017, sixth-fewest in the country.
 
Eureka returns 19 starters from last season's 8-2 team that competed for the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference championship on the final day of the regular season. Six All-UMAC honorees return from 2016 -- three on offense and three on defense.
 
In all, more than 40 letterwinners are back from last season's team. More than 40 newcomers will join the program in 2017 to give the Red Devils' their largest football roster of the Kurt Barth coaching era.
 
EIGHT RED DEVILS NAMED TO ALL-UMAC TEAM
Eight Red Devils have received All-Upper Midwest Athletic Conference honors, according to a Wednesday announcement from the league office. Additionally, junior offensive tackle Ryan Barth has been voted UMAC Lineman of the Year and junior running back LeAnthony Reasnover is the UMAC Offensive Player of the Year.
 
A total of seven players from Eureka's league championship team were voted to the All-UMAC First Team: Barth, Reasnover, senior linebacker Chris Friend, sophomore cornerback Trevon Moore, senior offensive guard Michael Slingsby, junior defensive tackle Macae Skaggs and senior defensive end Trever Zeibert.
 
Senior defensive end Ray Vogel was voted to the All-UMAC Second Team.
 
Reasnover and Zeibert are on the All-UMAC Team for the third consecutive season, including repeat appearances on the First Team. Barth, Moore, Slingsby and Vogel are now two-time selections and Skaggs in a first-time honoree. Reasnover is Eureka's first UMAC Player of the Year since the conference dropped its divisional format prior to the 2010 season. Eureka Hall of Fame quarterback Nick Lindsey shared the league's South Division Offensive Player of the Year award in 2009. Barth IS Eureka's first UMAC Lineman of the Year in nine seasons as a member of the league.
 
REASNOVER NETS THIRD STRAIGHT UMAC WEEKLY HONOR
Another huge rushing performance has brought another UMAC Offensive Player of the Week award for Eureka College junior running back LeAnthony Reasnover, the league office announced on Nov. 6. Reasnover ran for 252 yards and broke his own single-game school record with seven rushing touchdowns in the Red Devils' 63-26 victory at Martin Luther that clinched the league's outright championship.
 
Reasnover has now won the award three times in a row, four times in 2017 and seven times in his three-year career. He scored three times in the first quarter on Saturday, including a 58-yard run that gave the Red Devil the lead for good and a 56-yard score that pushed EC's lead to two possessions. He added a 1-yard scoring run in the second quarter and three more scores in a dominant third quarter that turned a 10-point halftime lead into a decisive 56-26 lead after three periods.
 
With all 10 regular-season games complete, Reasnover has continued re-writing Eureka's record book and now owns six program rushing records – all-time yardage (3,808) and touchdowns (55), single-season yardage (1,834) and touchdowns (31), as well as single-game yardage (355 vs. St. Scholastica) and touchdowns (seven at Martin Luther). Additionally, he is currently the NCAA Division III leader with 192 total points scored, 32 total touchdowns and 31 rushing touchdowns.
 
EUREKA IN THE POSTSEASON
Despite Saturday's game representing the Red Devils' first trip to the NCAA playoffs, EC has twice participated in the national postseason before.
 
Eureka was one of 16 teams to qualify for the NAIA Division II playoffs in 1991 after the Red Devils put together an undefeated 10-0 regular season and won the Illini-Badger-Hawkeye Football Conference. Despite taking the nation's #3 ranking into the tournament, the Red Devils   were denied a first-round home game and opened the postseason at #2 Georgetown (Ky.). The Tigers defeated EC in the first round, 42-14, and ultimately won the national title on its home field with a 28-20 victory over Pacific Lutheran.
 
The Red Devils went back to the NAIA Division II playoffs in 1994. The #11 Red Devils went on the road again, this time to #16 Tiffin, and came up short in a 41-14 decision. Kurt Barth, then a freshman, made five receptions for 48 yards in that game.
 
ABOUT ST. THOMAS
Perennial NCAA Division III heavyweight St. Thomas finished the regular season 9-1 and swept its way to its sixth Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship in the last eight seasons with a perfect 8-0 league record. Like Eureka, the Tommies have won eight in a row since their only loss of the season, a 25-22 non-conference setback at Wisconsin-Stout on Sept. 9. UST is ranked fourth in Division III according to the most recent national polls from the American Football Coaches Association and D3football.com.
 
The St. Thomas offense scored 52.7 points per game during the 2017 regular season, second-most in Division III. The Tommies also produced 493.2 yards per contest to rank 10th nationally. UST led the MIAC with 243 first downs and 15.5 yards per completion. Junior quarterback Jacques Perra, a one-time walk-on at Division I Minnesota, has thrown for 2,340 yards and 19 touchdowns this season. Junior Tucker Trettel leads the Tommies with 664 rushing yards and sophomore Vinny Pallini has hauled a team-high 33 receptions for 414 yards. Pallini is also the Tommies' top kickoff and punt returner and has a team-high 85.1 all-purpose yards per game.
 
The most dominant phase of the UST attack is its defense. The Tommies led Division III in total defense, allowing only 147.1 yards per game. The St. Thomas defense also ranked first nationally with 24.1 rushing yards allowed, 11.4 tackles for loss per game and a third-down conversion defense that allowed first downs at a 20 percent clip. UST logged four shutouts in 2017, limited opponents to two touchdowns or less seven times and allowed only 10.0 points per game.
 
Eight different UST defenders made at least 30 tackles this season, all of which were a junior or senior. Senior linebacker Steve Harrell led the group with 46 stops and 8.0 tackles for loss. Senior linebacker Dylan Andrew was next with 45 tackles and led the Tommies with 13.5 tackles for loss. Eight different defenders also had an interception, including two apiece from senior Isaac Seering and senior Adam Draft.
 
St. Thomas has gone to the NCAA playoffs eight times in the last nine seasons. The Tommies have been to the championship game twice, falling 28-10 to Mount Union in 2012 and earning a runner-up finish in 2015 after a 49-35 defeat to Mount Union. UST has won at least 11 games and advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA postseason six times since 2009.
 
The University of St. Thomas was founded in 1885 in St. Paul, Minn. UST's undergraduate enrollment is approximately 6,200. The Tommies have competed in the MIAC as one of seven charter members since 1920 and have won more than 400 team MIAC titles.
 
MEET THE HEAD COACHES
Eureka College Athletics Hall of Famer Kurt Barth is in his ninth season as the head coach at Eureka. The winningest head coach in program football history, Barth has led EC to a pair of eight-win seasons and molded the Red Devils into an annual contender in the UMAC.
 
In all, Eureka has received 53 All-UMAC selections in eight seasons under Barth's direction. Additionally, Barth's strategies have put a dent in the Eureka football record book, as the Red Devils have broken 16 program records, including eight passing records, since his arrival in 2009.
 
Glenn Caruso was named the 29th head coach at St. Thomas prior to the 2008 season. The 1996 Ithaca graduate won his 100th game on UST sideline on Sept. 2 of this season and owns a 108-16 overall record in 10 seasons. He has piloted the Tommies to eight NCAA playoffs bids, 17 postseason victories, six 10-win seasons and six MIAC championships.
 
Caruso was the head coach at Division III Macalester prior to his arrival at UST.
 
THE ALL-TIME SERIES
Eureka has played 924 football games since the program was founded in 1891, but none of them have been against St. Thomas. Saturday's game represents the first all-time meeting between the Red Devils and Tommies.
 
The Red Devils have played two games against current members of the MIAC, sweeping a home-and-home series from Bethel (Minn.) nearly five decades ago. 
 
EC topped the Royals 21-16 in St. Paul, Minn. on Oct. 17, 1970, and won the return game at McKinzie Field on Oct. 16, 1971 in a 21-0 shutout.
 
THE REST OF THE BRACKET
A total of 32 teams qualified for the NCAA's annual Division III football postseason. All first-round games have a noon local start time this Saturday. 
 
Twenty-five "Pool A" bids -- or automatic qualifiers -- were awarded to regular-season conference champions. Two teams -- Mary Hardin-Baylor and Springfield -- received "Pool B" berths reserved for teams that are independent or in a league without an automatic berth. The remaining five teams in the field earned a "Pool C" bid -- essentially an at-large selection.
 
Four Division III schools from the state of Illinois are in the field: Eureka, Midwest Conference champion Monmouth and College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin co-champions Illinois Wesleyan and North Central.
 
LOOKING TO ROUND TWO
The winner of Saturday's game in St. Paul will advance to the second round of the NCAA playoffs on Saturday, Nov. 25.
 
Either the Tommies or the Red Devils will face a round-of-16 matchup with the winner of Saturday's Huntingdon/Berry clash in in Mount Berry, Ga.
 
Eureka and Huntingdon were briefly conference rivals in 2008 during the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference's one-year football revival. The Hawks joined the SLIAC as an associate member and beat the Red Devils at McKinzie Field, 62-0 on Oct. 11, 2008.
 
FOLLOW THE ACTION ONLINE
St. Thomas will provide a live video broadcast and live statistics of Saturday's game in St. Paul. Direct links to each service will be available at EurekaRedDevils.com, TommieSports.com and D3football.com
 
In-game updates will be available via Twitter at @EurekaGameDay.