EUREKA – In 2016, Eureka got an up close and personal look at Everett Stine Field. They will again on Friday. For the second consecutive season, the Hornets (6-3) will be entertained in the opening round of the three A playoffs by a 9-0 Byron squad. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
The guests have an idea of what to expect from the hosts, who finished off a second straight unbeaten regular season and sixth in program history. Byron won the outright Big Northern Conference title. The Tigers, whose smallest margin of victory is 21 points, have scored 446 points on the season.
“I think that’s going to help a lot,” commented Eureka coach Jason Bachman. “We’ve changed some things already that hopefully will put us in a better position. Their strength matches our strength.”
Byron’s ground game via the wing-T has generated 3,646 yards, an average of 405.1 per game. Senior wingback Nolan Bielskis, who gained 380 yards as a junior, ran for 346 alone in week four against playoff-bound Poplar Grove North Boone. He is over 1,400 yards on the season. Both guards are back in seniors Gunnar McCoy (275 pounds) and Raymond Corkran (265). A first-year starter at tackle is 6-foot-5, 280-pound Tyler Elsbury.
“Literally, they road grade you,” Bachman said. “They just impose their will on teams. They get off the ball really well. Everything you want in a wing-T team, they do.”
When asked if the Tigers’ offense is better than 2016, Bachman was noncommittal.
“It’s really hard to tell,” said Bachman. “They’ve played some of the bottom teams in their league (Big Northern) that only won one or two games.”
Bielskis, Corkran and McCoy are three of four starters back on offense along with senior tight end John Perket. The fewest points Byron has scored in a game is 35 in the opener with Burlington Central.
Byron varies between a 4-3 and 4-4 look on defense, one that has allowed 122 points on the season. They return five starters that include Corkran (tackle), McCoy (tackle), Perket (line), Bielskis (safety) and senior Michael Criscione (linebacker). In last season’s game, the Tigers held down Eureka on the ground, but the Hornets had success with the pass, amassing 150 yards through the air.
“We have a good quarterback and some kids who can catch the ball,” said Bachman. “North Boone threw the ball on them and moved it down the field. We have to use some timely passes.”
The Tigers, who saw 10 players combined on 62 carries for 367 yards, jumped out to a 31-0 halftime lead in a 44-14 win.
“That’s key for the mentality of our kids,” said Bachman of hanging around at the outset. “I think our (defensive) alignment will make it more difficult for them. Our goal is to do what we did against Dee Mack. We stopped the run and forced them to beat us with the pass. I think they’re overlooking us. They’re already thinking about Monticello.”
Monticello hosts PGNB Saturday afternoon in the opening round. A win would advance the Sages against the Eureka/Byron winner.
Jeff Boyer has a 45-19 record in his sixth season at his alma mater. Byron went 10-1 a year ago, as they lost 38-18 on the road to Wilmington in the second round.
Notes: The playoff encounter was the first meeting between the Hornets and Tigers. Byron is making their fourth consecutive playoff appearance and 24th overall. Their postseason record is 31-22. Bielskis also returns punts. Eureka has earned back-to-back postseason berths for the first time since ’02 and ’03. They have dropped their last eight road playoff games.