Preview: Nov. 14, 2015 Both Arcola and Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley entered the Class 1A quarterfinals at Gibson City with 11-0 records. It was the best-ever record for the Falcons, who were in Class 2A the year before and made the playoffs. The Purple Riders were having its best record since the 1995 state-runner-up (Class 1A) team. Both teams averaged a lot of points with Arcola at 56.6 points per game and the Falcons at 41.3. On defense the Purple Riders allowed just 4.4 and GCMS 6.3. Arcola’s closest game was in the second round, a 47-13 win over Salt Fork, while the Falcons' 32-21 victory in the second week of the season over Class 1A playoff team Tremont was their closest.
What I wrote: All of the scoring was in the first 18:02 of Saturday's Class 1A quarterfinal football battle between two undefeated teams, Arcola and Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley. Arcola advanced to the semifinals for the first time since 2007 with a thrilling 14-13 victory. The Purple Riders never trailed in the game.
"I can't explain the excitement I have inside of me right now," said Arcola’s Dalton Pantier after the game as the players lingered on the field with their families, friends and fans. "I have got like the jitters. It was a close game the entire time. It is like sitting on the edge of your seat when you are watching it. It was a crazy victory for us, but I am super excited to be going on to the semifinals."
Pantier's blocked extra point after GCMS's final touchdown turned out to be the difference.
"It was nothing special," said Painter, who went between the guard and center for the block. "We were just doing our jobs. We executed very well."
Arcola coach Zach Zehr said, "I can't say how proud I am of the kids and how hard they played. That is a good football team over there (GCMS). I felt like they had the momentum from the second quarter on and for us to not fold or put our heads down and just keep coming and make key plays was phenomenal."
Arcola showed a sign of things to come as far as controlling the clock. The Purple Riders, who had 55 plays to the Falcons 34, took 14 plays to go 48 yards (after a 17-yard punt into the wind on the Falcons first drive of the game) with Clayton Strader, who finished with 30 carries for 79 yards to lead Arcola, doing the bulk of the work. He had nine carries for 35 yards, which included an 11-yard gain on the second play, a 12-yard run after a 5-yard penalty on Arcola and a 6-yard run on a fourth and two from the GCMS 7. Arcola also picked up a first down on a fourth down (Arcola was four of six on fourth downs) 5-yard offsides penalty on the Falcons. Mario Cortez booted the extra point and the Purple Riders took a lead they never relinquished.
It didn't take long for GCMS to answer as Nick Meunier raced down the west sideline 63 yards for the touchdowns. Zach Johnson added the extra point and Arcola's lead was cut in half.
The stout GCMS defense stopped Arcola on its next drive and on the next one Johnson intercepted a pass and returned it 22 yards to the Arcola 18.
On the very first play, junior quarterback Keegan Allen found 6-4 James Fairfield for a touchdown which was followed by the blocked extra point making it 14-13, Arcola.
In the second half, GCMS drove from its own 43 down into the Arcola red zone thanks in part to a 28-yard run by Meunier, who finished with 15 carries for 93 yards and a touchdown. On third and five after six straight running plays, the Falcons tried to pass for a touchdown. Seth Still intercepted the pass in the end zone to stop the drive.
"We threw a fade to the end zone and we should have run the ball," said Allen. "That falls on me as the head coach."
The Falcons never got within 40 yards of the end zone after that.
Arcola started a long, time-consuming drive at the beginning of the fourth going 75 yards in 12 plays with a key play being a 34-yard screen pass to Wyatt Fishel on a fourth and seven from the 37. The Falcon defense held as the Purple Riders were ruled to be inches short after second down, but a 5-yard penalty moved it back on fourth and inches and the pass fell incomplete.
What happened/what I remember: I remember the build-up for the game, the huge crowd (three deep at least all the way around) and the ecstasy of the Purple Riders and fans. I also remember how classy Mike Allen (GCMS) coach (138-65 in 19 seasons) was — he told me that he would have to live with the decision to pass (when intercepted in the end zone) for the rest of his life. Allen doesn’t have to think about it much anymore — his Falcons went 14-0 in 2017 and 2018, winning the Class 2A title. Zehr, who is now at Tremont, is 47-25 overall in seven seasons and led Arcola to the state title after the victory (fourth in school history), beating LeRoy 42-0 in the semifinals and Toulon Stark County 35-17 at Northern Illinois to win the Class 1A title.
PHOTOS: Arcola vs. GCMS football playoffs
Contact Mike Monahan at (217)-238-6854. Follow him on Twitter: @monahanmikejgtc
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