Last year, Eureka football coach Trevor Utter said his team “flew under the radar a little bit. People didn’t expect us to win.”
That was based on the fact the Lions finished the 2015 fall campaign with a less than impressive 3-5 record.
“Some of the media picked us to win just two games,” he said.
The Lions opened its 2016 schedule with a so-so 1-1 mark. The loss was to Shelby.
That’s also the last time Eureka has lost.
It’s been all Lions from that point on. Eureka went 11-1 last year, captured its first state championship and is currently 8-0 this season.
“To be undefeated at this point, I thought it would be possible before the season with the crew we had coming back,” Utter said.
“Even though we lost 12 really good kids (to graduation).
“We also probably have exceeded expectations at the same time,” he admitted.
“We felt we would be very good and have a chance in every game. But I don’t think we are as surprised as other people are. To be able to run the table in our conference (Western Division) is very tough. This year we are not sneaking up on anybody.”
The Lions enter today’s quarterfinal round of the Class B playoffs at home with Manhattan (7-2).
Kick off is set for 4 p.m.
“Expectations are high,” Utter admitted for the postseason.
“Anything less than a state championship will be a disappointment.”
Eureka rolls into this contest after an impressive 40-6 home victory last Saturday over Cut Bank in the playoffs opening weekend. Manhattan advanced with a tight 33-28 victory over Roundup.
The winner of today’s contest will face the Fairfield/Huntley Project winner next weekend in the semifinals.
“The pressure (on the players) is there to win, but that does not change how we play,” Utter said.
“We play the same.
“They have handled it really well,” he said of being the team everyone wants to beat this season.
“They work their tails off every week, continue to get better every week. That’s all we can ask them to do.”
Utter said his Lions will face a very athletic team in Manhattan.
“They have all the components of a good football team, good size and kids with speed,” he said.
“Cal Holgate is very, very fast. They find multiple ways to get him the ball as a running back, receiver.”
Holgate scored three of Manhattan’s touchdowns last week — a 4-yard run and scoring grabs of 56 and 80 yards from quarterback Jake Dyk.
Eureka’s star last weekend was quarterback Garrett Graves. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound senior ran 1 yard for a touchdown and passed for four more — two going to Bryant Little in the second quarter. Eureka led Cut Bank at the half 40-0.
Graves has completed 69 of 126 passes for 1,207 yards and 19 touchdowns. He’s been intercepted five times.
He’s the team’s second leading russher with 474 yards on 69 carries and 12 touchdowns.
Chet McCully, a 5-9, 160, sophomore running back, is the Lions top rusher with 732 yards on 90 totes. He averages 8.1 yards per carry and has scored eight touchdowns.
The Lions air attack is equally shared by five players. Brenton Pluid has 11 receptions for 271 yards and six scores, Hank Dunn 14 receptions for 254 yards and 3 touchdowns, Little 12 catches for 229 yards and four TDs, Jonathan Schmidt 12 catches for 203 yards and no touchdowns, and Garrett Gollahon 11 receptions for 112 yards and three touchdowns.
“(Manhattan) is similar to a Shelby and a Loyola type of team,” Utter said.
“They run a spread most of the time ... throw first and run second, which could be an issue possibly if the weather is bad.”
Eureka, on the other hand, runs the ball 60 percent of the time.
“We feel comfortable to be able to run the ball,” Utter said.
“Teams that play us want to stop the run, force us to pass. That’s the attitude they take. That’s what Cut Bank did last week and dared us to throw the ball.”
And Eureka coasted to an easy win.