SETTING THE STAGE
The Eureka College football team will take its second in-state road trip of the 2011 season on Saturday to square off against the MacMurray Highlanders in a 1 p.m. Upper Midwest Athletic Conference kickoff at Freesen Field in Jacksonville, Ill.
The Red Devils will try to put an end to a season-long three-game losing streak this Saturday in Jacksonville. Eureka is 4-4 overall in 2011 and 4-3 against UMAC opponents.
Eureka was unable to hold a 1-point lead after the first quarter last weekend against Northwestern (Minn.) at the 12th annual UMAC Dome Day in Minneapolis, Minn., eventually dropping a 53-14 decision to the Eagles.
The Red Devils continue to employ one of the nation's most effective air attacks, averaging 304.5 passing yards per game to lead the UMAC and rank 15th in all of NCAA Division III. Eureka has passed for 300 yards or more three times in 2011 and 10 times overall since Kurt Barth became head coach in 2009.
MacMurray is winless this season with an 0-8 overall record and will be looking for its first win in more than two years on Saturday. The Highlanders dropped their Dome Day game last Friday to Martin Luther, 45-22.
The Highlanders have lost 20 consecutive games dating back to a 68-62 overtime win over Crown at Dome Day on Oct. 30, 2009.
This season, MacMurray has been held to seven points or less in six of its eight outings and has yielded at least 27 points in all eight contests. The Highlanders nearly ended their losing streak last month in Jacksonville against Presentation, but a failed 2-point conversion in the final moments of the game gave the Saints a 27-26 win.
Despite its woes, MacMurray features one of the league's best pass defenses, allowing only 169.2 passing yards per contest to rank third among UMAC teams. On the other side of the ball, freshman linebacker DeRon Terry ranks seventh in the UMAC with 8.5 tackles per game.
THE HEAD COACHES
Eureka College athletics Hall of Famer Kurt Barth is currently in his third season as the head coach of the Red Devils in 2011.
Since being hired as the 12th head coach in program history in December 2008, Barth has rejuvenated the EC football program and installed one of the most prolific passing offenses in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference and all of NCAA Division III.
Barth is 2-0 all-time against MacMurray, the only UMAC squad he is unbeaten against. A victory on Saturday would make MacMurray the first team Barth has beaten three times as head coach of the Red Devils.
MacMurray is under the direction of first-year head coach Chris Douglas.
A native of Poteau, Okla., Douglas is in his sixth season as a collegiate head coach after guiding Southwestern (Kan.) to a 20-29 record from 2002 until 2006. Douglas served as an assistant coach prior to becoming the Builders' head coach and also played for the NAIA-affiliated school.
Douglas also owns collegiate coaching experience at NCAA Division II Abilene Christian, Jamestown and Highland Community College.
THE ALL-TIME SERIES
MacMurray represents Eureka's longest running active rivalry, as the two squads have met on the gridiron every year since 1985. The Red Devils and Highlanders were longtime rivals in the Illini-Badger Football Conference prior to competing in the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (2008) and the UMAC (2009-present).
MacMurray is 16-10 all-time against Eureka and won 11 straight against the Red Devils from 1996 until 2006. Eureka has regained the momentum in the rivalry as of late, winning four in a row dating back to a 41-27 win at Freesen Field on Nov. 3, 2007.
The Red Devils have never lost (2-0) to MacMurray in Jacksonville when the game is contested in the month of November.
THE DRIVE FOR FIVE
A win on Saturday at MacMurray would give the Red Devils five victories in a single season for the first time since Eureka went 5-5 in 1997. The Red Devils have won five or more games in a season only 17 times in program history.
The Red Devils are also in position to win five conference games in the same season for the first time since Eureka went 6-0 in Illini-Badger Football Conference action in 1995.
JEFFERSON AMONG THE BEST
In addition to Eureka's nationally ranked passing attack, Eureka junior punter Jordan Jefferson has placed the Red Devils' special teams among the nation's best as well.
Jefferson has punted 41 times for an average of 38.9 yards per kick, ranking second among UMAC punters behind St. Scholastica freshman Justin Bosman (39.7).
While Jefferson's punting has been outstanding, Eureka's punt coverage has been solid as well. The Red Devils net punting average of 35.1 ranks first in the league and 21st in Division III.
SCHMIDGALL GETS 100 AGAIN
Making the 27th start of his three-year Eureka career last Saturday in the Metrodome against Northwestern, senior wide receiver Wes Schmidgall made six catches for 105 yards to record his fifth 100-yard receiving game of the season. He has 15 100-yard receiving games for his career and has eclipsed the 200-yard mark four times.
This season, Schmidgall has made 62 catches for 1,092 yards and 14 touchdowns. His 136.5 receiving yards per game rank fourth nationally, while his 7.75 catches per game rank 14th.
While most of Eureka's offensive damage in 2011 has been done through the air, several signs points to the Red Devils finding success on the ground this Saturday.
The Red Devils have ran the ball well historically against MacMurray, compiling 141 yards and four rushing touchdowns against the Highlanders in 2010 and another 139 yards during the 2009 meeting.
Eureka sophomore Corey Dawson, who has started all eight games in the backfield for the Red Devils this season, set a career-high with a pair of rushing touchdowns in last season's matchup with MacMurray.
Chris Wakid (137) and Nick Lindsey (125) were the last Eureka duo to rush for more than 100 yards in the same game at MacMurray, Oct. 25, 2008, while Justin Dempsey ran for a school-record 292 yards on Nov. 3, 2007 against the Highlanders.
This season, MacMurray has yielded a UMAC-worst 274.2 rushing yards per game, while more than half of the Highlanders' first downs allowed have come on run plays.
Perhaps the person looking forward to Saturday's matchup with the Highlanders the most is Eureka linebacker Jacob Carls.
The sophomore from El Paso, Ill. turned in a career day against MacMurray last season at McKinzie Field, racking up 13 tackles, two interceptions and 2.0 tackles for loss in the Red Devils' win to earn UMAC Defensive Player of the Week accolades.
Carls's second interception nearly resulted in his first career touchdown. After intercepting MacMurray quarterback Justin McAfee, Carls covered 44 yards on a wild return across the field before the Highlanders made a touchdown-saving tackle at their own 13-yard line as time in the first half expired.
Carls has started 18 consecutive games since his collegiate debut versus Benedictine on Sept. 4, 2010.
Eureka College seniors Alex Hess, Mike Minehan and Wes Schmidgall have each been selected to the D3PRODAY.com Preseason All-America Third Team, according to an announcement from the website in late August.
D3PRODAY.com is the nation's first and only Division III Pro Day and Combine for seniors after the regular season. D3PRODAY.com Preseason All-Americans represent the board's best seniors in Division III. The selection board is made up of pro scouts, NFL and CFL agents and former NFL coaches and players.