EUREKA — As good as his offense played Saturday, Eureka football coach Trevor Utter might have been even more impressed with his less-publicized defense.
The Lions smothered Fairfield in a State B playoff semifinal clash of unbeatens, 31-6. Eureka will defend its title against Shelby — a 28-27 winner over visiting Loyola Sacred Heart — next Saturday in Lincoln County.
"For our defense to take a team that averages 34 and hold them to six, it was amazing in all aspects," Utter said. "It was everyone doing their job.
"We knew we had a high-powered offense, so scoring 31 is not out of character. But holding Fairfield to six is out of character."
Utter says his team's uncanny playoff success the past two years boils down to athletes making plays when it matters most. Saturday was a good example.
The Lions (10-0) jumped on the Eagles with 8:25 left in the first quarter when Montana Griz recruit Garrett Graves threw a 42-yard touchdown pass to Hank Dunn.
"That one was a 50-50 ball and Dunn jumped up and made a great play," Utter said. "And (Brenton) Pluid did that twice for us. Our kids made amazing individual plays."
Fairfield (10-1) cut its deficit to 7-6 on a Ryder Meyer 28-yard touchdown run with 3:48 left in the first period. But the point after failed and Eureka went into the second stanza with a 14-6 lead after Graves' 51-yard TD pass to Pluid.
Pluid added a 14-yard TD catch in the second frame. The score stayed at 21-6 until the fourth period when Graves added a 9-yard TD run and Simon Granberg a 27-yard field goal.
Utter says it's a special time to be in Eureka, especially on Saturdays.
"Oh man, it's a madhouse," he said of the game day experience. "Half the time we're trying to get our fans to quiet down so we can communicate with kids. It's a great thing. Quite the scene."
Graves completed 14 of 23 passes for 254 yards and three touchdowns. He also had a team-high 79 yards rushing on 20 carries.
Pluid had four catches for 102 yards. Dunn had five catches for 87 yards. Middle linebacker Jake Kindel collected a team-high six tackles.
Shelby 28, Loyola 27
The Rams held a six-point lead with under two minutes left but couldn't hold off the Coyotes in a nail-biter semifinal in Shelby. Loyola finished with a 7-4 record while the Coyotes will take an 8-3 mark into Saturday's final in Eureka.
The Rams went up 27-21 on a Ryan Tirrell 7-yard burst early in the fourth quarter, but the extra point was blocked. Aaron White's 5-yard touchdown pass to Zach Torgerson with 1:44 left, coupled with a successful point after kick, proved to be the difference for the hosts.
Loyola had one last chance to overtake Shelby, starting from its own 22-yard line with 1:34 left. But the Rams turned the ball over on downs.
Shelby drew first blood in the game when Torgerson scored on a 6-yard run. Tirrell answered with a 5-yard run later in the first quarter and the teams headed to the second frame knotted at 7-7.
Griz recruit David Koppang gave Loyola its first lead in the second quarter on a 40-yard pass from Scott Twite. Shelby answered with a White 12-yard strike to Wyatt Brusven and the teams were knotted 14-14 at halftime.
Koppang scored his second TD on a 65-yard pass from Twite in the third quarter. Brusven once again answered, this time on a 35-yard pass from White.
That set the stage for a dramatic fourth quarter.