EUREKA – The last time Eureka posted a 9-0 regular season on the football field Gerald Ford was in the White House, Captain and Tennille had the number one hit song “Love Will Keep Us Together” and the price for a single gallon of a gasoline was a mere 57 cents.
That was back in 1975, a Hornets’ squad that reached the two A semifinals and won a program-best 11 games.
The drought could end this season, as the 2019 team graduated just seven seniors and returns a total of 18 starters, nine on each side of the ball.
“If it happens, it happens,” said Eureka head coach Jason Bachman of going through the slate unscathed. “Our goal is to get better game by game. We feel we have the opportunity to get better.”
Eureka went 9-2 in ’18, as they advanced to the second round of the three A playoffs before the Hornets lost 33-28 to Monmouth-Roseville. They have been in the postseason three consecutive years, a first in the history of the program.
The offense scored 349 points a season ago (31.7 per game), which ranked second in the Heart of Illinois Conference. While they did graduate tight end Alex Brittain (27 receptions, 375 yards), Eureka returns quite a bit, including the entire line of senior guard Andrew King, junior guard Conner McDonald, senior center Joel Baer, senior tackle Sterling Spencer and junior tackle Thomas Cahill (280 pounds). Junior quarterback Matt Martin, who threw for 1,361 yards and 15 touchdowns and ran for 1,049 yards and 12 TDs, returns along with junior running back Hunter Gladson (653 yards), senior wide receiver Reuben Roberts (16-264) and junior receiver Aden Sears (13-368).
“We were 70-30 last year,” pointed Bachman of play calling between run and pass. “I think we’ll be better at throwing this year because we have a little more speed on the outside. Last year, we showed we can pass. We hope to be able to get people out of the box by throwing the ball.”
The Hornets amassed 3,659 yards of total offense a season ago, an average of nearly 333 per game.
Defensively, Eureka thrived on forcing mistakes, as they recorded 26 takeaways and a plus 17 turnover margin.
“Boy, you hope,” said Bachman, who begins his seventh season with a 27-31 record. “I think that was the key last year. (Defensive coordinator) Eric (Seim) has done a great job with our defense. We are excited about that group. Can we match those numbers? I’m not sure, that’s a very good ratio.”
Up front, Baer (83 tackles, 38 solo) earned all-state honors by the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association (IHSFCA) and is joined by senior ends Jared Farney and Isaac Ferguson. Gladson is back at linebacker along with senior Coleton Janssen (68 tackles). Martin (five interceptions) and Sears return in the secondary.
They allowed 172 points (15.6 per contest), which was third fewest in the HOIC.
Senior Cade Gold returns as placekicker.
Two-time two A champion Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley (14-0, 5-0) won the large division, but with 16 starters to replace, Eureka could vault into the favorite’s chair.
“I think that’s up there,” said Bachman. “We were second in the large last year. We’ve improved each year. It’s not going to be easy. All those teams are good and talented programs.”
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The Hornets host Le Roy Friday with a 7 p.m. start from McCollum Field. The Panthers won the small division crown and were 5-5 overall, as their campaign concluded with a 42-6 loss at Chicago Orr in the opening round of the one A playoffs. Le Roy native BJ Zeleznik enters his 17th year as head coach with a record of 109-60. Senior running back Rodney Kaeb (447 yards) is among their returnees. The all-time series is knotted at two after Eureka’s 19-14 victory in’ 18 when Brittain scored the go-ahead TD with just six seconds left.
The expectations are as lofty as they’ve been for the program in quite some time. According to Bachman, the Hornets are up for the challenge.
“I think they’ll handle it very well,” he said. “I think we’re confident. The community is excited. The kids are excited, but they know we have to perform every week. We cannot take a week off. There’s some very good opponents, There’s coaching staffs who will scheme for us really well.”
The remainder of the schedule is as follows (all games will kick off @ 7 p.m. unless noted):
Sept. 6: @ GCMS*
Sept. 14; versus Chicago Quest, 2 p.m.
Sept. 20: vs. Deer Creek-Mackinaw*
Sept. 27: vs. Ridgeview/Lexington @ Colfax
Oct. 4; @ El Paso-Gridley*
Oct. 11: vs, Tremont
Oct. 18: vs. Fieldcrest*@ Veteran’s Park
Oct. 25: vs. Tri-Valley*
Notes: Eureka’s other undefeated clubs were ‘42, ’52, ’61, ’71 and ’72. The captains are Baer, Gold, Gavin Graack, Ben Grober, Farney, Ferguson, Isaiah Hahn, Janssen, King, Garrett Peterson and Spencer. Martin is the Hornets’ first returning signalcaller since Kolton Merritt in ’11 and ’12. Brittain was a first-team HOIC selection at linebacker, while Baer was a two-way choice. The program’s last division or conference crown and subsequent automatic postseason bid was ’90 in the then-River Trails. The league’s only new coach is Luke Drone (EP-G).