Red Devils' Winding Road Takes Them to Benedictine Next

Photo courtesy of Taylor Malik.
Photo courtesy of Taylor Malik.
EUREKA — When the clock ran out on Eureka's final attempt to seal a homecoming victory over Concordia Chicago, there were countless passionate reactions. 
But once the raw emotions of the moment subsided, a single question hung over everything else: What's next? 
After spending his whole life immersed in this game, EC coach Kurt Barth knew the answer. And, a few days before EC's next challenge, he spoke at length about this program preaches.
"You've got no choice but to bounce back," he said. "I think that the game of football most closely resembles life, more than any other sport, because it's physically demanding. It's mentally draining and demanding, and there's going to be times when things go your way and when things don't. We kind of experienced both on Saturday. I think it's one of those things where you've got no choice. You come back to work and you get ready to go. 
"Obviously everybody's disappointed that we weren't able to close the game out. We had opportunities to win, and we didn't. You're going to have things go well in life and then something's going to smack you in the face after that, so you've got to bounce back and keep moving forward." 
The Red Devils have had a good run the past few years. They're 3-3 on the season and 1-2 in the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference now, but they've gone 28-8 in regular-season play since 2016, won seven of their first 10 matchups in the NACC and taken 12 of their last 13 games on their home turf. 
Barth and his staff remember better than anyone, though, that it hasn't always been this way. It took time to build consistency, and garner recognition and support. That attitude of doggedly re-adjusting to the game's twist and turns, and commitment to continue moving forward regardless of the results, he says, is what got them there. 
And so the page has been turned, and now, the Red Devils are eager to greet their next challenge. On Saturday, Eureka will take on take on Benedictine on the road at 3:30 p.m.
The first word that comes to mind when discussing the 2019 Benedictine football team is "improved."  Under their former longtime defensive coordinator Jim Schroeder, the Eagles have become a quality defensive squad. They're second in the league in fewest points allowed (123) and third in yards allowed (338.3). 
Schroeder returned to Benedictine last spring after four seasons as the head coach at Rockford. Prior to that, he was the Eagles' defensive coordinator from 2005 to 2014, when Benedictine was known for consistently having one of the best defenses in the conference.
After last week's 27-3 triumph at Wisconsin Lutheran, the Eagles are 4-2 on the season and 3-0 in the NACC. They've already surpassed last season's win total. 
Joshua Williams logged his third consecutive 100-yard game, running the ball 32 times for 161 yards and a touchdown. Benedictine racked up 268 yards rushing in the game, averaging over five yards per carry. The offense totaled 425 yards while the defense held a second-straight opponent under 200 
yards. Jalaan Owens led the defense with nine tackles.
Although Benedictine ran away from Schoeder's old team, Rockford, in 48-13 win, the Eagles haven't blowing out teams with regularity. They're only averaging 24.7 points per game, but they're only giving up 20.8.
 "Coach Schroeder has done a fantastic job," Barth said. "He's a fantastic coach. Those guys are going to be ready to play.

"I think they're in a similar situation. They've got a lot of young kids as well. They're thrown into the mix and are growing. They're being efficient offensively. They're taking care of the football and they're running it very well."

For the Eagles, it's all about keeping the opposing offense contained, playing physical and controlling the clock.

EC has seen how time can play a critical factor in recent weeks. The maroon and gold must take advantage of its opportunities on this road trip.

"We've got to take care of the ball," Barth said. "We've got to kind of get our passing game back to being efficient again. Defensively, we've got to try to get takeaways and stop the run.

"It's a matchup that should lead to a good football game."

After last week, there's obviously going to be an emphasis on keeping the team's collective foot on the gas until the end.
When Eureka turned a 14-14 ball game halftime into a 20-point lead with less than two minutes left in the third quarter, Barth thought the team's killer instinct faded just a bit. No one quit. No one stopped trying. No single bad play led to the Red Devils' undoing. It was a series of issues, but EC's shift in aggression was the through-line.
"We didn't play to win; we played not to lose," Barth said. "And that's a coach's cliché, but you could see it. We weren't aggressive toward the ball, we weren't aggressive with our tackling, we weren't aggressive with blocking, with our run game on offense. You can't do that. Concordia is an improved team and a team that was hungry to win. They kept fighting (at that level), and we didn't." 
It wasn't that way earlier. Eureka came back from down 14 points in the first half to tie the game in the first half and take over in the second. The Red Devils kept competibg and found a way to get back in the game. 
With three scores and two interceptions in the third quarter, Barth thought the team couldn't have come out of halftime any better. If they could have sustained that, it wouldn't have been a different story. 
Overall, the coach said, it was a solid defensive performance, but he thought it was possible that when a few calls didn't go that unit's way down the stretch, it changed their mindset. 
Experience was also a factor. Between injuries and how the season has taken shape, Eureka has seen its share of young players in big moments. 
Last week, there were four freshmen in the starting lineup. Left guard Tim Wright is the only one who has been in that role since the beginning of the season. On the other side of the ball, defensive end Alex Brittain, defensive tackle Donovan Thorn and freshman Kwentin Brookins have all emerged as the fall has progressed.
Brittain is a prime example of thrilling upside and inherent downside you can get when youth is on the field. 
Against Concordia Chicago, the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Eureka High School product racked up a career-high nine total tackles, made a sack and forced a fumble. 
His pressure was in the backfield was evident throughout the night, but Barth saw plenty of room for improvement. It's good to remember that, for all of EC's athletic prowess, these young guys are learning on the fly, and they've all got a long way to go.
"He could have had two or three sacks, but instead he was jumping for the ball, trying to bat it down instead of running through the quarterback," the coach said of Brittain. "And those are things that you take for granted for kids that are out there. You look at Alex and he's getting to the quarterback, and he's doing those things, then all of a sudden and you look, and he's a freshman. He hasn't been in that situation. There's a mental aspect that he needs to get experience at."