EUREKA – For the Eureka football team, there isn't much sand left in the hourglass of the 2021 season.
On Saturday, the Red Devils will host St. Norbert for the first time in program history on Saturday at McKinzie Field in the final game of the year.
Win or lose on Saturday, it will be the end of the road for a strong senior group that has proudly followed the traditions of the Eureka football program over the past four-plus years, experiencing their share success along the way.
"Every year, you have to experience knowing that you're going to lose a good group of guys," EC coach Kurt Barth said. "These guys have been with us, some of them a little longer than four years, due to COVID, and others have been four years. Every year, your hope is to keep the guys in the program for four years and have them have a great experience and be successful, on and off the field. This group has done that."
It's a group that features 4.0 students, five-year players, multi-year starters and guys who played prominent roles in winning at least one championship.
Offensive lineman Martin LeCesne and linebacker Mason Diederich played on two championship teams. Others, like center Corbin Heiken and offensive lineman Bryce Ohrt, were key newcomers on the 2018 Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference championship team.
"They've done a nice job of working hard and doing the things they can control, just as they've done all the way through," Barth said. "Unfortunately, this year has been a little different than what they experienced their first three years, but their approach, their effort hasn't wavered any, and I appreciate their leadership, their work ethic and everything they've done for the program, and for themselves, to set them up for a great career leaving here."
There isn't enough space to focus on every senior who will be honored on Saturday, but here are a few more who have stood out for various reasons.
Linebacker Colton Walsberg was a steady performer who improved every season and played his best football in his last two seasons.
"He's what you want in a program," Barth said. "A guy that comes in and does a job, continues to work hard and get better and better, and sets himself for these last two years."
Fellow four-year linebacker Amari Smith got some experience as a freshman on the 2018 team, but his role grew every season.
"He turned into one of the top defensive players that I think we've had here in a long time," Barth said. "Just with his work ethic, his approach, on and off the field, it's hard to pinpoint anybody who's done it better than him."
Fullback Chandler Boyd experienced his share of injuries, and Barth praised him for sticking with the team through it all.
"Those are things that pop out about some of these guys, and that's the thing that pops out about Chandler," he said. "Out of anybody in our program, he's had injuries every year he's played, but he never stopped working, never stopped believing in the team and never stopped being there for the team."
Defensive end Jon Jackson transferred in 2018 and, aside from a couple injuries, he has been a mainstay on the defensive line ever since.
"He has, again, always done things the right way," Barth said. "He has always worked hard, never complained, never done anything to put his character or team in jeopardy. He just kept working and getting better and better, no matter what."
Offensive lineman Chase Parkinson is another player who has persevered through injuries, rejoining the team after taking a year off to recover and becoming a contributor.
"The big thing I'd say about the entire group is that they've continued to work hard in tough times." Barth said. "That was part of their development as freshmen – maybe their time was tougher because they weren't playing as much as they wanted to. But they just kept building and doing things the right way."
Others who will be honored on Saturday are defensive back Malaki Jenkins, wide receiver Malek Folston, defensive back Kyler Allen, offensive lineman Ried Morrell, offensive lineman Ben Appel and defensive lineman Keegan Kerr.
On Saturday, the Red Devils will wrap up a season that hasn't gone the way the team wanted and expected it to go a few months ago. However, everyone in the program knows there is still a lot to play for in the final 60 minutes of the season.
"This hasn't been a season that we've been accustomed to over the past four or five years," Barth said. "We're used to being on the other side of this record. While there's some value to that, there's also some value to learning how to handle adversity.
"I think that, above all, is what I want to see more than anything else: our guys continuing to compete and go battle for another 60 minutes. For 15 of these guys, it's going to be the last game they're ever going to play, so you want to see them go out the right way."
Records and statistics will fade from memory over time, but how they compete will stay with them.
"In tough times, you don't want to see guys back off," Barth said. "You want to see them step forward."
Eureka is coming off a 45-16 loss against Lakeland in a contest that was competitive in the first half.
The Red Devils trailed 31-16 at halftime, but earlier in the game, the team was only down five points at 21-16, and earlier than that, EC had the ball trailing 14-9.
Lakeland took advantage of some EC mistakes before the half to extend the lead to 15 points before the break. Then, in the second half, Eureka made too many mistakes to gain traction.
"While the score ended up being lopsided, I thought we competed very well," Barth said. "That's what we wanted to see going in. We knew they were going to be one of the top teams, and we've obviously been undermanned.
"That's not an excuse, and I'm not a guy to make an excuse. We still have to go out and compete, and we, as coaches, have to rise above that to get our guys prepped and ready. I think our guys did that."
In St. Norbert, the Red Devils will be taking on another team with a strong tradition and track record of recent success that hasn't reached its expectations this year.
Under head coach Dan McCarty, the Green Knights went 40-12 over five seasons before stumbling a little bit this year. They enter the contest 3-5 with a 2-4 record in NACC play.
Barth previously played for McCarty when he was an Indoor Football League Pro Bowl selection for the Duluth-Superior Lumberjacks in the summer 2000, so he has an idea of what to expect from the Green Knights.
St. Norbert has two big wins in league play – a 68-0 shutout over Wisconsin Lutheran on Oct. 9 and a 77-7 win over Rockford last week.
In the Rockford rout, senior Ben Kohl thrived as a dual threat quarterback, tallying six of the team's 11 touchdowns. He passed for four and ran for two, finishing with 91 rushing yards on 13 carries and completing 11 of 21 passes for 195 yards and four touchdowns.
Throughout the season, he has been on par with EC quarterback Lukas Tinkham, averaging 133 yards per game and notching 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He is also the team's top rusher, contributing 53.5 yards per game. Parker Lawrence leads the team in receiving with 25 receptions for 423 yards and five touchdowns.
The Green Knights are last in the league with an average of 307 total yards of offense per game.
On the other side of the ball, the team has conceded the second-least yards per game, allowing just 331 yards – 114 yards rushing and 207 yards passing.
Linebacker Maccabee Garrett is averaging nearly nine tackles per game – good for third in the league.
Fellow linebacker Jake Berken is second in the league in sacks with six, while linebacker Kevin Pedersen is right behind him with 4.5.