EUREKA, Ill. – The Eureka College football team put forth its best defensive effort in nearly a decade and junior quarterback Sam Durley (Roanoke, Ill./Roanoke-Benson H.S.) threw a pair of touchdowns to senior receiver Wes Schmidgall (Eureka, Ill./Eureka H.S./Culver-Stockton), leading the Red Devils to a 23-6 Upper Midwest Athletic Conference victory over Crown, Saturday afternoon at McKinzie Field.
Crown (0-2, 0-1 UMAC) took charge on the first possession of the game, converting twice on third down and an additional two times on fourth down to race to a 6-0 lead. Crown quarterback Wes Safford capped the 17-play, 66-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown run on third-and-goal. The snap on the extra point was bobbled, leaving the score at 6-0 in favor of the visitors with 5:13 left in the first quarter.
Unlike Crown's opening scoring drive that chewed more than nine minutes off the clock, Eureka quickly moved the ball down the field to score its first touchdown of the day. The Red Devils picked up three first downs on the drive before Durley hit Schmidgall with a 22-yard strike to force a 6-6 tie after just seven plays covered 59 yards in 2:23. The point after was blocked, leaving the score tied at 6-6.
The Eureka (1-1, 1-0 UMAC) defense yielded one first down on a rush from Crown running back Tyler Hallblade before forcing a punt early in the second quarter. The Red Devils made quick work of the Storm defense for the second consecutive possession and ultimately took their first lead of the game. Senior wideout Cody Myers (Ipava, Ill./V.I.T. H.S.) snagged a pair of passes from Durley on the drive, including a 28-yard catch that moved the Red Devils to the 1-yard line, before senior Alex Hess (Washington, Ill./Washington H.S.) punched in his fifth career rushing touchdown for a 13-6 advantage with 12:20 left in the first half.
The score remained 13-6 until the Red Devils pushed their advantage to two possessions on their final drive of the first half. Durley completed three passes in the final two minutes of the half, setting up the Red Devils with first-and-goal at the 3-yard line. Junior kicker Travis Huber (Morton, Ill./Morton H.S.) calmly converted a 20-yard field goal for a 16-6 lead in the final minute of the half after three consecutive incomplete passes brought up fourth down. Eureka carried that 16-6 lead into halftime.
Neither squad was able to put points on the board in the third quarter, and it was the Eureka defense that made the first big play of the second half. After a personal foul against the Red Devils and a quarterback sack by Crown's Marshall Panton and Zack Jusczack pushed the Eureka offense all the way back to its own 7-yard line, the Storm gained possession in Eureka territory for the first time in the third quarter. After a 3-yard run from Hallblade started the drive, Eureka sophomore linebacker Frankie Bray (Ottawa, Ill./Barron-Collier H.S.) jarred the ball loose from Safford in the Storm backfield on the ensuing play, allowing junior lineman Josh Girard (Pekin, Ill./Pekin H.S.) to recover the bouncing ball for the Eureka defense's second forced turnover of the afternoon.
The fumble recovery set the stage for the Red Devils' final scoring drive of the day. After a 9-yard completion from Durley to Myers gave the Red Devils a first down, Durley found Schmidgall open down the sideline for a 41-yard touchdown that pushed the hosts to a 23-6 advantage.
Durley's touchdown throw marked the final score of the afternoon. Eureka junior punter Jordan Jefferson (Normal, Ill./Normal West H.S.) kept Eureka in control of the field position battle with a 56-yard punt midway through the fourth quarter and a 47-yard boot that was downed by the Eureka coverage team at Crown's 2-yard line in the final minute of the game.
Eureka's defense was outstanding for the duration of the game, as the Storm was able to advance past the 50-yard line only four times on Saturday. The Eureka defense forced six punts, two turnovers on downs and didn't allow the Storm to enter the red zone after its opening scoring drive. The six points allowed were the fewest allowed by a Eureka defense since the Red Devils gave up six points in a 6-0 loss to MacMurray on Oct. 26, 2002. The 219 total yards allowed by the Red Devils on Saturday were the fewest by a Eureka defense since yielding 205 total yards in a 32-13 victory over Concordia (Ill.) on Sept. 24, 2005 at McKinzie Field.
Senior free safety Mike Minehan (Washington, Ill./Washington H.S./McKendree) led the Red Devils in tackles for the second consecutive game with 15 total stops and broke up one of Safford's passes. Junior strong safey Murad Abbed (Danville, Ill./Bismarck-Henning H.S.) shared game-high honors with five solo tackles. Sophomore cornerback Wes Robinson (Chicago, Ill./Normal Community H.S.) did not make a tackle Saturday but led all players with two pass breakups.
The Eureka offense was also solid on Saturday. The Red Devils didn't throw an interception or lose a fumble for the first time since a 28-13 victory over Knox on Sept. 5, 2009, the first game as head coach for Kurt Barth. Durley matched a career-high with 19 completions and narrowly missed his second career 300-yard passing game with 289 yards through the air on Saturday. Schmidgall caught six of Durley's 19 completions for 114 yards, his 11th career 100-yard receiving game.
Tyler Hallblade was a workhorse for the Storm, carrying 27 times for 67 yards. Safford went 13-for-26 for 121 yards, while Ethan Keller paced the Crown receiving corps with three receptions for 27 yards.
Eureka will continue UMAC play next Saturday when it takes its farthest western road trip in the 108-year history of the program to Aberdeen, S.D. for a 7 p.m. kickoff against first-year UMAC program Presentation.
NOTES: Saturday's victory marked Eureka's first-ever win against Crown ... Eureka is 1-0 in league play for the first time since 2005 and 1-0 in UMAC play for the first time in program history ... Eureka has won three consecutive home games for the first time since 1997 ... Huber is now a perfect 6-for-6 on field goal tries at McKinzie Field ... Sophomore defensive end Matt Stevenson (Minonk, Ill./Fieldcrest H.S.) picked off Safford for his first career interception early in the second quarter ... Crown's offense went three-and-out or worse on eight of its 13 possessions ... Junior wideout Matt Dawson (Goodfield, Ill./Eureka H.S.) made five catches, a career-high for the second consecutive week ... Schmidgall's 41-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter was the game's longest play from scrimmage ... Sophomore offensive lineman Chas Bruess (Metamora, Ill./Metamora H.S.) made his first career start.