NEW ULM, Minn. – The Eureka College football team continued its best start in 16 years on Saturday at Martin Luther, rallying from behind for the second consecutive week to claim a 31-21 Upper Midwest Athletic Conference victory over the Knights in New Ulm, Minn. The victory was Eureka's fourth straight and improves the Red Devils to 4-1, Eureka's best start since 1995.
The Red Devils (4-1, 4-0 UMAC) were unable to get points on their first two possessions before putting together a lengthy scoring drive midway through the first quarter for a 7-0 lead. Eureka sophomore receiver Cody Followell (Forrest, Ill./Prairie Central H.S.) delivered the score, snagging a 4-yard touchdown throw from junior quarterback Sam Durley (Roanoke, Ill./Roanoke-Benson H.S.) for his first career touchdown with 4:33 remaining in the first quarter. The Red Devils drove 79 yards in 10 plays, including a 3rd-and-11 conversion in their own territory when Durley hit senior receiver Alex Hess (Washington, Ill./Washington H.S.) for an 11-yard pickup.
The lead was short-lived, as Martin Luther's Nick Kressin took the ensuing kickoff 73 yards for a touchdown to tie the score at 7-7.
After a missed field goal and a punt, the Red Devils regained the lead with a quick touchdown drive. Eureka used three big plays on the series before Durley hit senior wide receiver Wes Schmidgall (Eureka, Ill./Eureka H.S./Culver-Stockton) with a 32-yard strike through the air for a 14-7 lead with 12:49 left before halftime. Schmidgall made two catches for 53 yards on the drive, while sophomore running back Corey Dawson (Farmington, Ill./Farmington H.S.) added a 15-yard run.
The Eureka defense held firm on the ensuing Martin Luther (1-5, 1-4 UMAC) possession, but a fumbled punt return gave the Knights the ball at Eureka's 26-yard line. After a two short gains on the ground and the second career sack for sophomore linebacker Jacob Carls (El Paso, Ill./El Paso-Gridley H.S.), MLC quarterback Joseph Lindloff converted on 4th-and-12 when he found Micah Plocher for a 28-yard touchdown pass. The Knights converted the point after for a 14-14 tie with 6:53 left in the half.
The Red Devils took their ensuing possession to Martin Luther's 26-yard line before a turnover on downs ended the trip. The score remained tied 14-14 at halftime.
Junior kicker Travis Huber (Morton, Ill./Morton H.S.) regained the lead for the Red Devils on the first series of the second half when his 30-yard field goal was successful for a17-14 advantage with 11:05 remaining in the third quarter. The kick, Huber's 13th career field goal, capped a 9-play, 43-yard drive for the Red Devils.
The Knights answered quickly yet again, needing only eight plays from scrimmage to take their first lead of the game. Garrett Schoch returned a short kickoff to Eureka's 42-yard line, giving MLC good field position on the drive. Martin Luther carried four times for 24 yards on the drive and took advantage of a pair of Eureka penalties before Tyler Dorn punched in a 2-yard run for a 21-17 lead with 8:00 left in the third quarter.
The score remained 21-17 in favor of the Knights until the final minute of the third quarter. The two squads traded turnovers before the Red Devils covered 87 yards on 13 plays in just over four minutes on their next scoring drive. Schmidgall pushed the Red Devils in front, 24-21, with his second touchdown reception of the afternoon, a 23-yard catch from Durley with 15 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Red Devils went on to add an insurance score after a 44-yard punt return by senior cornerback Rosney Beverly (Los Angeles, Calif./Normal West H.S.) gave Eureka excellent field position at Martin Luther's 21-yard line. Dawson made it a two-possession lead when his 4-yard touchdown run with 10:40 remaining in the contest gave Eureka a 31-21 lead.
The Eureka defense took care of the rest in securing the Red Devils' fourth consecutive win. Martin Luther ran only 10 plays from scrimmage in the fourth quarter, punted on its final two possessions and failed to advance the ball past the Eureka 48-yard line. The Eureka offense chewed the final 7:03 off the clock with a 12-play drive that ended inside Martin Luther's 5-yard line as time expired.
The Eureka defense was solid throughout Saturday's contest, forcing three turnovers and allowing only 33 passing yards. Martin Luther finished the afternoon with 199 yards of total offense, the first time a Eureka defense has held its opponent under 200 total yards since the Red Devils limited Benedictine to 195 total yards in a 12-0 win on Sept. 25, 1999.
Reigning UMAC Defensive Player of the Week Murad Abbed (Danville, Ill./Bismarck-Henning H.S.) hauled in his third career interception on Martin Luther's first drive of the game, while senior Mike Minehan (Washington, Ill./Washington H.S./McKendree) and junior Dan Bolsen (Lovington, Ill./Lovington H.S.) recovered Martin Luther fumbles. Carls led the unit with a game-high 15 tackles.
The Eureka offense finished the day with 479 yards on 78 plays. Durley went 23-for-35 for 310 yards, the third 300-yard passing game of his career. Dawson set new career-highs with 25 carries and 119 rushing yards, Eureka's first 100-yard rushing game since Oct. 16, 2010. Schmidgall recorded game-highs with seven receptions for 159 yards and two touchdowns.
Three Martin Luther running backs combined to carry 45 times for 166 yards. Lindloff completed only two of his six pass attempts for 33 yards.
Saturday's victory extended Eureka's win streak to four games, the Red Devils' longest stretch without a loss since winning eight straight in 1995-96. The Red Devils remain tied atop the UMAC standings, as fellow unbeaten St. Scholastica beat Northwestern (Minn.) Saturday in St. Paul, Minn., 35-7. Both Eureka and St. Scholastica are 4-0 in league play.
The Red Devils will return to the state of Minnesota next weekend. Eureka will visit Minnesota-Morris (2-4, 2-3 UMAC) for a 1 p.m. UMAC kickoff on Saturday in Morris, Minn.
NOTES: The Red Devils are 4-0 in UMAC play for the first time ever and 4-0 in conference action for the first time since starting the Illini-Badger Football Conference schedule 6-0 in 1995 ... Eureka is now 2-1 all-time against Martin Luther ... Third-year head coach Kurt Barth picked up his 10th career victory on Saturday, passing Darrell Crouch (2000-04) for eighth place on the all-time Eureka list ... Eureka is now 8-1 under Barth when allowing 30 points or less ... The Red Devils are 7-7 all-time in UMAC games, the first time Eureka has been .500 or better since joining the league in 2009.