EUREKA, Ill. -- The Eureka College football team will take its home field under the lights for the first time in the 127-year history of the program Saturday when the Red Devils host Knox in the sixth annual Abraham Lincoln Bowl at Pete FioRito Stadium at McKinzie Field at 6 p.m.
Saturday's non-conference bout with the Prairie Fire will be EC's first intercollegiate athletic competition on the newly renovated playing surface at McKinzie Field. Eureka College installed FieldTurf and a full lighting system throughout the summer of 2017.
Eureka returns 19 starters from last season's 8-2 team that competed for the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference championship on the final day of the regular season. Six All-UMAC honorees will suit up for the Red Devils Saturday -- three on offense and three on defense.
In all, more than 40 letterwinners are back from last season's team. More than 40 newcomers will join the program in 2017 to give the Red Devils' their largest football roster of the Kurt Barth coaching era.
The Red Devils return their top two passers, top two rushers and five of their top seven pass-catchers from last season's team that put up 350.6 yards per game. Senior Colton Johnson and sophomore Drew Barth both return after combining to complete 129 passes for 1,599 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2016.
LeAnthony Reasnover is back in the EC backfield after delivering Eureka's first 1,000-yard rushing season since 1999. The junior's 24 career rushing touchdowns are second-most by a Red Devil since EC joined NCAA Division III nearly four decades ago.
Third-year wideout Josh Kuse is Eureka's top returning receiver after making 13 grabs for 192 yards last season. Junior Brett Charlton and Reasnover give the Red Devils a variety of experienced options to catch passes.
Junior Ryan Barth and senior Michael Slingsby return from All-UMAC campaigns last fall to anchor an offensive line with loads of experience. The group paved the way for the Red Devils to rush for 1,886 yards last season, their highest total since 2008.
REASNOVER'S PUSH FOR 2,000
LeAnthony Reasnover will take the field Saturday with 1,974 career rushing yards, 26 yards shy of becoming Eureka's first 2,000-yard rusher since 2005.
The Momence, Ill. native ranks fifth on Eureka's Division III-era rushing list (1978-present) and needs 80 yards to move in front of Andy Swenson (2002-05) for fourth place and 1,331 yards to break the all-time record of 3,304 held by Derrick Harris (1991-93).
FEAR THE DEFENSE
Three All-UMAC players are back from an EC defensive unit that ranked 17th nationally in total defense last season. The Red Devils limited their opponents to two touchdowns or less seven times and held opponents to just 17.4 points per game in 2016, the lowest average by EC opponents since 1991.
Senior defensive end Trever Zeibert headlines the group. Zeibert is the first returning letterwinner to earn All-Region honors from D3football.com in program history and owns 20.0 career sacks, most by a Red Devil since 2000. Senior defensive end Ray Vogel joins Zeibert to give the Red Devils a formative defensive front. Vogel, who also received all-conference honors in baseball last year, has made 30.5 tackles for loss in his first three seasons.
Senior Chris Friend anchors the Eureka linebacker unit after making 48 stops in 2016. Sophomore defensive back Trevon Moore is also back for EC after becoming the first Eureka freshman to receive All-UMAC First Team honors since 2013. Macae Skaggs, Ross Royal, Colton Fauver and Collin Brown also return to bolster an EC defense that will likely rank among the UMAC's best for the second consecutive season.
PRESEASON UMAC POLL
Eureka was picked to finish fourth in the UMAC, according to a preseason poll conducted by league coaches in August. Longtime UMAC power St. Scholastica edged defending league champion Northwestern (Minn.) for the top spot in the 2017 poll.
St. Scholastica received 73 points and three first-place votes. Northwestern netted five first-place votes and 72 points. MacMurray was picked third with 61 points. Eureka received two first-place votes and 54 points to edge out Westminster (49 points) for the fourth spot. Greenville, Crown, Minnesota Morris, Iowa Wesleyan and Martin Luther completed the bottom half of the ballot.
The Red Devils will try to win their season opener for the third consecutive season and the fifth time since 2012. Eureka hasn't won three consecutive season-opening games since winning five in a row from 1994 through 1998.
Eureka will begin its 114th season of intercollegiate competition on Saturday. EC is 35-73-5 in season-opening games since playing its first game in program history, a 15-0 loss to Peoria High School on Oct. 17, 1891.
"THE GREAT AMERICAN EUREKA COLLEGE FOOTBALL DAY"
Saturday, Sept. 2 has been proclaimed "The Great American Eureka College Football Day" by the city of Eureka, according to an announcement by Eureka Mayor Scott Zimmer at an Aug. 21 City Council meeting.
The proclamation, issued by the city to recognize and support the advancements of Eureka College, coincides with Eureka's major renovation to Pete FioRito Stadium at McKinzie Field. The College has installed FieldTurf and a complete lighting system to be available for use as a multi-purpose facility for the campus community and the city of Eureka.
The Prairie Fire went 2-8 last fall and 2-6 against Midwest Conference opponents. KC is in search of its first winning season since 2002.
Knox returns junior quarterback Matt McCaffery after a 2016 season in which the Wilmette, Ill. native threw for 1,958 yards and ran for an additional 433 yards. He had a hand in 18 Prairie Fire touchdowns last fall and logged a pair of 300-yard games through the air. KC also brings back its top three receivers from last season. Junior receiver Dalton James received All-MWC honors as a return specialist a year ago and also led KC with 46 catches for 440 yards and two touchdowns.
The KC defense brings back eight of its top nine tacklers from last season, all of which made at least 33 stops in 2016. Junior linebacker Logan Hollis returns after leading Knox with 80 tackles in 2016. Junior cornerback Evan Economos is also back for KC after registering 43 stops and leading the Prairie Fire with four interceptions and an additional eight pass breakups.
Knox College was founded in 1837 in Galesburg, Ill. The enrollment is approximately 1,400 students. The Prairie Fire joins Beloit and Lawrence as charter members of the Midwest Collegiate Athletic Conference -- later becoming known simply as the Midwest Conference -- since 1921.
MEET THE HEAD COACHES
Eureka College Athletics Hall of Famer Kurt Barth is in his ninth season as the head coach at Eureka. The winningest head coach in program football history, Barth has led EC to a pair of eight-win seasons and molded the Red Devils into an annual contender in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference.
In all, Eureka has received 53 All-UMAC selections in eight seasons under Barth's direction. Additionally, Barth's strategies have put a dent in the Eureka football record book, as the Red Devils have broken 16 program records, including eight passing records, since his arrival in 2009.
Damon Tomeo was named the 30th head football coach at Knox in December of 2012. The 2017 season marks the 19th year for Tomeo as a football coach. In Tomeo's first three seasons, the Prairie Fire garnered 37 academic All-Midwest Conference awards and 18 All-Midwest Conference selections.
Before coming to Knox, he most recently served as the assistant head coach and defensive coordinator for the Pomona-Pitzer Colleges football team in Claremont, Calif. during the 2011 and 2012 seasons. Tomeo improved the Pomona-Pitzer football team's defensive unit in total defense, scoring defense, and passing defense in 2012.
THE ALL-TIME SERIES
Saturday's meeting at McKinzie Field will be the 28th all-time meeting between Eureka and Knox, two schools separated by 64 miles on Interstate 74 and US Route 24. The Prairie Fire leads the all-time series that dates back to 1893, 17-9-1, but the Red Devils have won five of the last six in the series and three in a row over KC at McKinzie Field since 2009.
Knox will be in search of its first victory in Eureka since a 33-14 triumph on Sept. 1, 2007. The Red Devils' active three-game win streak over Knox at home is its longest in the 125-year series.
One of Eureka's most famous victories in program history came against the Prairie Fire in 2012. Then-senior quarterback Sam Durley threw for an NCAA-record 736 yards, including the game-winning 13-yard touchdown completion in the final minute, to lift EC to a 62-55 win in Galesburg. Durley's 736-yard performance remains the most by an individual an NCAA history.
A VALUABLE HISTORY LESSON
Saturday's contest is the sixth annual "Abraham Lincoln Bowl". Formally established in 2012, the competition recognizes the shared importance of the two liberal arts colleges, each founded by abolitionists, in Abraham Lincoln's life and in American history.
In 1856, Lincoln spoke on behalf of the first Republican presidential candidate, John Charles Fremont, at Eureka College. Two years later, in 1858, Lincoln famously debated Stephen Douglas at Knox for a United States Senate seat.
A traveling trophy is awarded to the winning team of the game. The trophy is a bronze bust of young Lincoln presented by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation in Springfield, Ill. It was donated to the two colleges by former Illinois Governor Jim Edgar.
In addition to the Lincoln Bowl, the EC football program will host a free youth football clinic at McKinzie Field from 12:30 p.m. until 1:30 p.m. on Sept. 2. The Eureka football program will follow with an alumni 7-on-7 football game at 2 p.m. Admission to participate is $50 and will include a t-shirt, admission into the Lincoln Bowl and VIP tailgate parking.
Decatur, Ill.-based band "Wreckless Whiskey" will begin its show on the RJR Transportation Stage at 2:15 p.m. in the tailgate area.
HONORING RYAN ALBIN
Eureka College will observe a moment of silence to honor the memory of 2003 EC graduate and Illinois State Trooper Ryan Albin prior to kickoff on Saturday. Trooper Ryan Albin was killed in the line of duty on June 28, 2017, as the result of a fatal crash.
A native of Bellflower, Ill., Albin was an All-Illini-Badger Football Conference defensive lineman for the Red Devils. He totaled 109 tackles and 6.5 sacks from 2000 through 2003.
EUREKA AGAINST THE MIDWEST CONFERENCE
Eureka has played 116 games against active members of the Midwest Conference since a Oct. 14, 1893 meeting with Knox in Galesburg. The Red Devils own a 43-69-4 combined record against the league.
Despite not having met on the gridiron in nearly four decades, Illinois College represents Eureka's most frequent intercollegiate football opponent in 127 years of competition. The Red Devils and Blue Boys played 56 times between 1894 and 1978. IC leads the all-time series, 32-21-3. The Red Devils also own MWC victories over Lawrence and Monmouth.
FOLLOW THE ACTION ONLINE
A live video broadcast and live statistics of Saturday's game will be available. The video broadcast will be streamed at EC's official YouTube channel and will be directly linked from EurekaRedDevils.com. Live statistics will also be directly linked from EurekaRedDevils.com. Fans at McKinzie Field will also be able to access the live statistics in real time from mobile devices.
Frequent updates via Twitter will be available at @EurekaGameDay.