Red Devils Have Lot to Play For in Final Game at Rockford

Photo courtesy of Summer Inselmann.
Photo courtesy of Summer Inselmann.

EUREKA — For Kurt Barth and the 2019 Eureka football team, it might seem like it just started, but there's only one day left on the calendar.

On Saturday at noon, these Red Devils will take the field for the last time when they take on Rockford.

ROCKFORD GAME NOTES

"It's been a season of ups and downs, as a lot of them are," Barth said. "But I'm proud of our guys for fighting all the way through.

"We've had some games in the past that we felt we should have won and didn't make a play to do it, but instead of worrying about that and falling apart, they grew together and came back. They've had two strong games, and hopefully we can have another one tomorrow, but that says a lot about guys being true team players. They had opportunities to pull apart and they didn't. That's a good thing. That tells you a lot about what's gone on here in the 11 seasons of our program."

On Saturday, the Red Devils will vie for their sixth win of the season and fourth in Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference play.

With a victory on Saturday, EC would improve to 10-4 in its first two seasons in the NACC. It would end the season on a three-game winning streak and secure the team's fourth straight winning season.

And it would come after two straight big weeks for this program.

After edging Lakeland in a memorable 50-49 shootout on Nov. 2, the Red Devils seized a 24-0 senior-day shutout over Concordia Wisconsin last week. It was EC's first shutout in over four years.

Last week, the Red Devils got the quality defensive team performance that they've been striving for. They held the visitors to 126 yards of total offense and conceded only 28 passing yards and, most significantly, they eliminated the big play.

"I think that shows some resiliency from that group," Barth said. ""We've given up some big plays from that group, especially the week before, but they bounced back and just had a phenomenal day."

Offensively, the Red Devils took care of business as well, possessing the ball for 43:30 to Concordia Wisconsin's 17:30.

Heading into the last week, the Red Devils have a trio of players in the top five in the NACC in major offensive categories.  

Senior receiver James Douglas III leads the league with 119.4 receiving yards per game and is second in receiving touchdowns with 14. Senior quarterback Drew Barth is second in the NACC in both passing yards (242.9) and passing touchdowns 25, and junior running back Joe Hughes is third in rushing yards at 125.6 per game.

As a team, the Red Devils are third in total offense with 431.1 yards per game, second in passing yards (242.9) and third in rushing (188.2). They've also racked up the third-most first downs (203)

Defensively, senior Trevon Moore leads the league with nine pass break-ups, and Nehemiah Butler and Adrian Walker are tied for second in the league in interceptions with three apiece.

ABOUT ROCKFORD

Rockford enters its final game of the 2019 season gunning for its first NACC win.

The Regents opened the season with a 35-25 road victory over MacMurray, and have fallen short in eight straight. Last week was the closest they've come to getting the edge.

Rockford struck first in the second quarter and didn't trail until the Concordia Chicago scored twice in the second quarter to snag a 28-25 win.

LaVar Johnson rushed for 105 yards on 18 yards and scored two touchdowns for the Regents, while tight end Adam Ambrogio caught eight passes from quarterback Christian Mazurkiewicz for 82 yards. At 6-3, 225-pounds, Ambrogio is a physical, multi-talented player who's capable of being a playmaker.

Rockford is seventh in the league in total yards per game — sixth in passing yards at 1,648 and seven in rushing yards at 1,052.

On the other side of the ball, Michael Gay recorded a 60-yard pick-6, forced a fumble and added six tackles. Jallen Bashford, meanwhile, racked up 16 tackles and forced a fumble.

Bashford leads the NACC with 14.4 tackles per game. Johnson has tallied the third-most rushing touchdowns with 10.

Receiver Joey Owens is fifth in the league in receiving yards per game at 62.9, and fellow receiver Kalan Miller has the fifth-most receiving touchdowns with seven.

"They've come on strong," Barth said of Rockford's development over the course of the season. "They're a gritty team that just keeps playing hard. Any time you play a team like that, anything can happen. They're going to keep battling."

Like Eureka, Rockford is a team that wants to run the football, mix in some play-action passing and take some shots down the field when it gets the chance. Its starting offensive linemen weigh an average 265 pounds, and its receiving corps. is formidable.

"They're going to be capable of doing some things," Barth said. "Our mindset has to be that we're going to play our style of football, and see what happens."

The game will be played on a grass field, which will be Eureka's first game off the turf this season.

It snowed three inches in Rockford earlier this week, so as tends to be the case with mid-November football, field conditions could play a role.

However, it is projected to be 34 degrees and partly cloudy at the time of kickoff, so the weather couldn't be a major concern.

SENIOR SENDOFFS

The Red Devils honored them before Saturday's triumphant home finale, but this is the one where it gets real.

For 15 seniors, this will be their last college game in maroon and gold.

Of the 15, over half are four-year players: Tanner Kuhne, Matt Sutton, Andrew Goodwin, Drew Barth, Trevon Moore, Austin McCarty, Wesley Burris and Chris Fleischman.

With a win on Saturday, they'll complete their careers at EC with a total record of 31-11, and having been a part of two conference championship teams.

"It's a group that came into a situation where we had a strong presence of leadership and guidance for them with the older group," Barth said. "The guys came in and they supplemented their roles. Some had a little more prominent roles early on, some had to work their way through, but it's a group that truly bought into our program and truly bought into where we wanted to go as a program.

 "The one thing about this group that I think matches some of the other ones (that came before) is that they were willing to do their part … they went about what was best for the team to get a victory. They bought into the team aspect."

If there's one player in that group that has gone overlooked over the years, Barth says it's Burris, the Red Devils' crucial fullback.

 "He's what's made our offense work the past 3 ½ years," he said. "He paved the way (last year) for one of the best running backs in the country in Le'Anothy (Reasnover), and this year, he's paved the way for Joe (Hughes), Grant (Jochums) and other guys who've carried the ball. And he's made some big catches, and he's done it without complaining one time.

"He's a team-first guy, very unselfish and he loves to play the game and do what he can to help the team win. He's a guy that represents the true character of this team."

Among the other player suiting up for the Red Devils for the last time on Saturday will be James Douglas III, Nick Holman, Adrian Walker, Cameron McCready, Brendan Curtis, Brett Charlton and Grant Jochums.

MILESTONES IN REACH FOR BARTH, DOUGLAS

Heading into the final game of their respective careers, quarterback-wide receiver combo Drew Barth and James Douglas III are approaching some significant milestones.

Barth is only three completions away from surpassing Nick Lindsey (2006-09) for second all-time in program history. He also only needs 156 yards to catch Lindsey for second place in career passing yards.

Already second in passing touchdowns, it would take a video-game performance to get anywhere close to Sam Durley's program-leading 61. Barth has 51 heading into Saturday.

Meanwhile, his top target, Douglas, is four touchdown receptions away from tying the single-season record of 18. It was set in 1995 by his coach Kurt Barth.

The day before the game, Barth spoke about watching Douglas come into camp last season as a quarterback, transition to receiver/return man and become a key contributor on a conference title team in the fall, then blossom into an electric all-purpose threat for the Red Devils this fall.

"He's been the real deal," Barth said. "It's not that he wasn't last year, but this year, he's had the opportunity to be the guy in his spot, and he's taken it and ran with it. He's a phenomenal athlete, he's got great hands, runs very good routes, accelerates in and out.

"He's made the most of the opportunities, and I'm very proud of him for that."

Another notable stat to watch for is Trevon Moore's passes defended. Heading into the game, he's second in Division III among active players with 56 passes defended. ­He's currently four behind Puget Sound's Jason Clayton.