ARCOLA — A fast start in Friday's Little Okaw Valley Conference Northwest Division football game helped Arcola secure its fifth win of the season making the team playoff eligible. The Purple Riders, 5-2 overall and 3-1 in the division scored 28 points in the first quarter and led 41-0 against the 3-3 Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond Knights. Arcola went on to win 47-14 in front of a Homecoming and Senior Night crowd at Thomas-Bradford Field.
"A point of emphasis with Homecoming and coming off a big win last week (beat Decatur LSA 20-14) we stressed being focused and coming out sharp and crisp and I thought we did that on both sides of the ball," said Arcola coach Nick Lindsey.
Arcola honored senior cheerleaders, band members and the six seniors prior to the game. Only the seniors got to run through the cheerleaders' sign as they came out onto the field.
A-L-A-H coach Dale Schuring agreed that Arcola came out ready to play.
"We didn't show up," said Schuring. "They played well and wanted to play football and we didn't. It was that simple. I told the kids Thursday this is what I thought would happen because this is the way we practiced this week. We have to practice harder. We have to pay attention better. We have to learn our assignments better."
The Purple Riders set the tone early on defense forcing the Knights to a three-and-out. Arcola took over at midfield and Austin Hopkins gained 13 yards on the first play. After a loss of two Conner Strader hooked up with Mario Cortez for 26 yards and a first down. The next play Strader dashed in from 11 yards out to for the game’s first points. Cortez booted the extra point for a 7-0 lead.
After that the Purple Riders scored 21 points in 4:18 to lead 28-0. Arcola went 23 yards in three plays after a 21-yard punt return by Cortez. Martin Rund scored on a six-yard run capping the three-play drive. Cortez made the point after for a 14-0 lead.
The Knights fumbled on their next possession and Kaleb Byard recovered for Arcola on the A-L-A-H seven. Sam Crane caught a touchdown pass just over the end zone from Strader in the corner and Cortez's extra point made it 21-0.
A-L-A-H picked up its first, first down of the game on its next drive on a four-yard pass from freshman Brady Borntrager to Kobe Wells.
Borntrager started last week against Sangamon Valley (A-L-A-H won 19-0) after starter Will Cohan was injured in the Argenta-Oreana game two weeks ago.
However, two plays later Arcola sophomore Pedro Guana stepped in front of a would-be receiver and raced untouched into the end zone. Cortez made the extra point for a 28-0 advantage.
Arcola led 35-0 after Strader scored on a 14-yard run up the middle and Cortez's extra point. Strader finished 7-of-12 for 102 yards passing and a touchdown and had eight carries for 65 yards and two touchdowns.
"Conner has been outstanding all year whether we have asked him to run it or throw it or hand it off," said Lindsey. "Whatever it is he has done it well. Offensively, he plays well, but defensively he is what makes us go. He gets us lined up right and does the stuff that is behind the scenes. It is like having a coach on the field with him."
On the final drive of the half Arcola picked up a first down on a fourth and five from the Knights 29 on a 10-yard pass to Rund from Strader. On fourth down, Hopkins scored on an 11-yard run with 28 seconds left to make it a running clock in the second half.
The Knights erased the goose egg on their first drive of the second half, going 55 yards in six plays with Borntrager scoring on a 13-yard run around the outside. Aaron Likes added the point after for a 41-7 game. Billy Fifer scored the other touchdown for the Knights on a 47-yard run.
Arcola capped the night off with senior Mason Gentry scoring on a three-yard run.
"The seniors deserve every second of it (each one came out on different plays early in the third quarter)," said Lindsey. "They have been outstanding since I first took the job. They work their tails off."
Fifer led A-L-A-H in rushing with 80 yards on 13 carries.
Arcola is to travel to Niantic Friday for the final NW Division game of the season and face Sangamon Valley/Tri-City, while the Knights, 3-4 overall and 1-3 in the division play their final division game at home against Cerro Gordo/Bement.