EUREKA, Ill. – Upper Midwest Athletic Conference regular season champion St. Scholastica scored touchdowns on each of its first three possessions, building an early lead and eventually earning a 48-7 league victory over the Eureka College football team, Saturday afternoon at McKinzie Field. The loss ends Eureka's season with a 4-6 overall record and 4-5 UMAC record.
After the St. Scholastica (10-0, 9-0 UMAC) defense held Eureka (4-6, 4-5 UMAC) to a three-and-out to begin the game, the Saints put together their first of six touchdown drives on the afternoon on a 10-play, 48-yard series for a 7-0 lead. The visitors converted on fourth down twice during the drive, including the 20-yard touchdown throw from Alex Thiry to Keegan O'Neill on 4th-and-5 with 8:24 left in the first quarter.
The Saints got the ball back just 77 seconds later and put together another scoring drive for a two-possession lead. St. Scholastica capped the scoring drive with big passing gains on consecutive plays. A 19-yard completion from Thiry to running back Travis Nehowig pushed the Saints down to Eureka's 28-yard line before Thiry tossed his second touchdown of the quarter, a 28-yard strike to Nick Thiry for a 14-0 advantage with 3:41 left in the opening quarter.
The Eureka offense threatened on its third series of the afternoon, but eventually stalled near midfield. After a 39-yard punt from the Red Devils pushed the Saints back to their own 31-yard line, Nehowig ripped off a 67-yard run down the sideline before being pushed out of bounds at the 2-yard line. Nehowig finished the drive with a 2-yard plunge for a touchdown on the next play from scrimmage. Mike Thesimann's extra point attempt sailed wide to leave St. Scholastica in front, 20-0, with 14:13 left in the second quarter.
Facing the 20-point deficit early in the second quarter, the Red Devils got on the board thanks to an 8-play drive that covered 55 yards. Eureka senior Rosney Beverly (Los Angeles, Calif./Normal West H.S.) gave the hosts excellent field position to start the series, returning a short kickoff 23 yards to Eureka's 45-yard line. Eureka scored when junior quarterback Sam Durley (Roanoke, Ill./Roanoke-Benson H.S.) completed a lob to senior receiver Wes Schmidall (Eureka, Ill./Eureka H.S./Culver-Stockton) in the corner of the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown.
The drive was aided by a 15-yard personal foul against the Saints and a juggling 6-yard reception by senior receiver Cody Myers (Ipava, Ill./V.I.T.) that successfully converted a 4th-and-2 at the Saints' 21-yard line. The extra point from junior kicker Travis Huber (Morton, Ill./Morton H.S.) pulled the Red Devils with 20-7 with 10:16 left before halftime.
The two squads traded punts later in the quarter before the Saints regained their 20-point lead. A 16-yard punt return from Jonny Bennett to Eureka's 36-yard line set up a short field for the visitors. St. Scholastica needed only three plays to score, and Thiry's 32-yard touchdown throw to Bennett pushed the Saints back in front, 27-7, with 5:44 remaining before halftime.
Eureka nearly scored its second touchdown of the game late in the half. A 14-yard completion from Durley to Schimdgall gave Eureka 1st-and-10 from St. Scholastica's 11-yard line, but run plays from senior Alex Hess (Washington, Ill./Washington H.S.) and Durley inside the 2-yard line ultimately fell short of the first down. The turnover on downs gave the ball back to the Saints, who used a trio of quarterback sneaks to run out the clock and take a 27-7 lead into halftime.
The St. Scholastica special teams unit added to the lead on the first play of the third quarter, as Sherome Milon took Huber's kickoff to open the second half 74 yards for a touchdown and a 34-7 advantage. Two possessions later, a 59-yard bomb from Thiry to O'Neill resulted in the Saints' sixth touchdown of the game and extended the advantage to 41-7 with 12:01 left in the third quarter.
The Eureka offense advanced beyond the 50-yard line into St. Scholastica territory on three of its eight possessions in the second half, but a pair of interceptions and a turnover on downs ended each of the series. Nehowig closed the scoring with a 6-yard run with 11:41 left in regulation, his second touchdown of the day to push the Saints to a 48-7 advantage.
Playing the final game of his collegiate career, Schmidgall hauled in seven receptions for 91 yards and his second-quarter touchdown to lead the Eureka offense. Durley completed 14-of-32 passes for 169 yards. Sophomore running back Corey Dawson (Farmington, Ill./Farmington H.S.) led a group of seven Eureka running backs with 31 yards on nine carries. The Red Devils carried 32 times as a team for a total of 76 yards.
Eureka senior free safety Mike Minehan (Washington, Ill./Washington H.S./McKendree) made nine stops in his last collegiate game on Saturday, running his career total to 314, the most among Eureka defensive backs in school history. Former Red Devil and current defensive backs coach Pete Logan held the previous mark among players in the secondary with 310 career tackles. Minehan also recorded his first sack of the season when he took down Thiry for a loss of five yards midway through the fourth quarter.
Sophomore linebacker Jacob Carls (El Paso, Ill./El Paso-Gridley H.S.) recorded a team-high 10 total tackles. Junior defensive tackle Craig Wilson (Flangan, Ill./Flanagan H.S.) also had a solo sack on Saturday and finished the game with four total tackles.
Nehowig led the Saints with 142 yards on the ground on 16 touches. Thiry, who entered the day with the nation's best pass efficiency (238.87), went 11-for-20 for 199 yards and four touchdowns. O'Neill and Nick Thiry each made four catches, while O'Neill had a game-high 94 receiving yards.
J.P. Leary led all players with 11 total tackles, including seven solo stops, and intercepted a deflected pass from Durley in the third quarter. Zach Dubanoski and Chris Doran each had 1.5 sacks, while Doran made 3.0 tackles for loss.
Beverly, Hess, Minehan, Myers, Schimdgall and offensive lineman Kolton Hammond (Astoria, Ill./Astoria H.S.) were each playing their final collegiate game and were honored during a pregame Senior Day ceremony. Hammond carried for three yards on the last play of the game, his first career rushing attempt.
St. Scholastica's victory extends its win streak to 14 games and improved its 2011 record to 10-0. The Saints, in just their fourth year of football at the NCAA Division III level, will represent the UMAC in the NCAA Division III national playoffs as the league's outright regular season champion.