MacMurray Visit Presents Another Rivalry Showdown For Red Devils

Photo courtesy of Summer Inselmann.
Photo courtesy of Summer Inselmann.
By Blake Baxter
EUREKA — It didn't all go according to plan for the Red Devils in the Lincoln Bowl. 
The Red Devils had to adjust to injuries, miscues and the scale of the moment before they could hoist the rivalry trophy for the sixth time in eight tries.  
But with time and persistence, they got it done, and now, they're headed into Week 2 of the 2019 season with a hard-earned win under their belt. 
"I was very proud of the way our kids responded," EC coach Kurt Barth said of the Knox win. "I was very proud of the way our kids adjusted after halftime, came out and did the things they needed to do to win a football game."
In Week 2, the Red Devils will take on MacMurray for the 34th time in school history after a one-year break in the long-running series. 
The Highlanders hold a 20-13 advantage over the Red Devils in the all-time series, but EC has won seven of the last 11 matches, including the past two. 
"It's a rival," Barth said. "As we go back to the days of the Illini-Badger (Conference), '94-'98 when I was playing here, and when we got to the UMAC, we had some good competition. It's always a very physical, hard-fought game — and we anticipate it being the same this week."
The Highlanders were selected third in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference preseason poll. They are coached by Chris Douglas, who is in his ninth year at the helm of the program and will enter the game with a 36-44 record. 
Last week, MacMurray dropped a 35-25 season opener at home against Rockford. The Highlanders outgained the Regents 377-359, but were undone by five turnovers that allowed the visitors to control the ball and the clock. 
Junior quarterback Bobby Tedesco – a dual threat in the air and on the ground — was 22-for-35 for 215 passing yards and one touchdown, while running for 130 yards and another touchdown. His top targets were Tanner Sussenba and Demtetrius Curry, who combined for 129 receiving yards and one score.
Defensively, Ahmad Washington had a career-high 15 total tackles, Chris Williams and Corben Edwards each had 11 and Laquarius Davis hauled in the first interception of the season. 
All told, Barth says, it's an athletic squad that is capable of making big plays. 
"We're going to have to be mindful of that," he said. 
After last week's Lincoln Bowl spectacle, the Red Devils are expecting another stellar crowd surrounding McKinzie Field. It's the last game on the home turf until Oct. 19's homecoming showdown against Concordia Chicago. 
After the graduation of two-time All-America running back Le'Anthony Reasnover, Kurt Barth and the Red Devils knew that this season was going to have a little bit of a different run-pass balance. 
It was apparent from the first play of the night on Saturday, when senior quarterback Drew Barth rolled out, evaded a rusher and hit James Douglas III in stride for a 67-yard touchdown reception. 
By the time the game was over, Barth had recorded the Red Devils' first 300-plus yard passing game (357) since Blake Robles against Iowa Wesleyan on Nov. 1, 2014, and posted the first five-touchdown passing game since Sam Durley's storied, record-breaking Lincoln Bowl performance at Knox on Sept. 1, 2012.
Douglas had notched the Red Devils' first 150-plus-yard receiving game (197) since Matt Mogged's 154 against Westminster on Oct. 5, 2013, and was the first EC receiver to tally three touchdowns since Austin Zirkle against Crown in 2015. 
His 67-yarder to start the game was also the first 50-yard TD reception since Reasnover's 56-yard catch-and-run against Wisconsin Lutheran on Oct. 6, 2018.  Later, however, Barth found Pierce Bradford for a 65-yard TD that made Douglas' stay in the "Last Time It Happened" column a short one.
"Drew stepped up and did a very nice job delivering the ball," Coach Barth said. "We've always thought he had great touch on the deep ball, which he showed the other night. 
"Jimmy is a capable receiver who can get over the top of coverages, and Pierce showed the same thing. It's just a matter of making the plays and executing them."
Bad breaks gave Grant Jochums a chance to move up the depth chart and show what he could do. 
The Benedictine graduate transfer from Minonk, Illinois, didn't waste it. 
The 5-foot-11, 200-pounder posted 78 rushing yards on 15 carries, and in the third quarter, broke for a 27-yard TD run that gave the Red Devils a two-score lead. His coach wasn't surprised.
"Going back to his time at Fieldcrest High 
School and then seeing him in college as well, we knew he was a very good football player," Barth said. "He competed well at camp and he was in some of the plans for the Knox game anyway. 
"He's a very good football player who can make plays, and he sure did that for us."
On the other side of the ball, defensive tackles Julius Peyton and Jake Struckhoff quietly had strong performances that didn't translate to big numbers or flashy highlights. 
"They did their job occupying space and letting Austin (McCarty) and Mason (Diederich) get over the top and make some plays," Barth said. "If our linebackers are clean and we're holding teams to lower yardages, it's a lot because of them."
On Tuesday, senior kicker Tanner Kuhne was named the  Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference Special Teams Player of the Week after going 6-for-6 on extra points, accumulating 113 punting yards and making a 21-yard run for a first down on a fake punt in the second half of the Red Devils' 42-28 season-opening victory over Knox. 
That's old news now, but what you might not know is that Kuhne's key highlight wasn't exactly how they drew it up.
Instead, it was the result of a plan going awry and a player thinking fast on his feet. 
 "Tanner came off the sideline and he was kind of worried about what I was going to say to him," Barth said with a laugh. "He said, 'There was no way I was going to get that punt off. They got too much pressure to the inside and I had to sidestep and I saw an opening and I took off'.
"We trust our players an awful lot on the field. I think if you can't trust your players when they're out there, then they shouldn't be out there."