Saturday's Class 1A quarterfinal football game between 9-2 Arcola and 11-0 Central A&M won't be the first time the seniors on these teams have faced each other - they played in the season-openers in 2016 and 2017.
In 2016 at Moweaqua, Central A&M beat the defending 1A state champions 34-14 and snapped the Purple Riders' 18-game regular season winning streak. The field was named Mark Ramsey Field at halftime of the game. Ramsey is currently the coach at Decatur St. Teresa and is an Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Famer who in was 239-93 in 30 seasons at Central A&M and Moweaqua.
Central A&M's Jackson Bugg had 11 carries for 90 yards and two touchdowns and four catches for 37 yards, while Jameson Smith was 10-of-15 for 87 yards passing and was picked off twice. He had seven carries for 43 yards and a touchdown in the game as well.
Arcola's Conner Strader was 10-of-15 for 186 yards and two touchdowns and was picked off three times. Daniel Mendoza had seven carries for 45 yards and six catches for 154 yards and two touchdowns in the game.
Central A&M never trailed leading 28-14 at the half.
"We were trying to adjust to a good football team playing fast," said Arcola coach Zach Zehr, who is now at Tremont. "We looked like a bunch of guys (eight new starters on offense and defense) trying to adjust to varsity speed against an experienced team playing fast as they can. Offensively, the put our defense in binds and did a good job of it."
In 2017, Central A&M won 26-19 in Arcola coach Nick Lindsey's first game.
"I remember we scored on the first play," Lindsey said. "Other than that I know there were some weird things that don't typically happen. It was my first game as a head coach so it is a blur. Central a&M was talented then and even more now."
Lindsey said of the film of that game," I have not looked at it too much because they run a difference offense, but there are some similarities. They are different now and we are to."
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Arcola's Austin Hopkins had 22 carries for 228 yards, including a 75-yarder on that first play. He also scored on a 7-yard run.
Central A&M's Connor Hutchins, now a senior, scored on a 9-yard pass from Jameson Smith in the game that was tied at 13 through three quarters. Lindsey also remembers Jacob Paradee for Central A&M playing, but was not as big a part of the offense as he is now. Paradee has 42 catches for 1,046 yards and 17 touchdowns this season.
The quarterfinal game is set for 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Central A&M. The winner will play either Carrollton or Athens.
This is the first time Arcola will play Central A&M in the playoffs since Moweaqua and Assumption consolidated in 1992. The Purple Riders did play Moweaqua in 1986 in the first round, winning 14-6, and blanked Assumption in 1978 14-0.
Arcola has played Assumption or Moweaqua seven times in the regular season: 1922, 1923, 1953, 1954 (both Assumption and Moweaqua), 1955 and 1990.
Both Central A&M and Arcola have a long history of playoff success. Central A&M, Moweaqua and Assumption are 48-28 all-time, while Arcola is 58-25. Central A&M has been to the state championship game five times in Class 2A, winning the title in 1997.
Arcola has been to the Class 1A state title game seven times, winning titles in 1978, 1985, 1988 and 2015.
Central A&M is coached by Brent Weakly, a 2002 Central A&M grad and former Sullivan/Okaw Valley and Shelbyville assistant coach. He is in his fifth year and is 31-20 overall.
"They are a tradition rich program that has had success," said Lindsey, who is 24-8 and in his third season. "They have communities that support them. They are pretty similar to Arcola as far as small school football goes and they are a perennial playoff team. They have a good group right now that makes them pretty special just like we do. They are someone that isn't new to the playoffs and isn't new to making deep runs. I am lucky to be a part of a community that cares so much about small school football."