CONCORD — Two similar offensive and defensive lines battle it out Saturday at 2 p.m. in the Illinois High School Association Class 1A football playoffs. Arcola, 8-2, is to play 9-1 Concord-Triopia/Meredosia-Chambersburg/Virginia (9-1) at Don Kemp Field. The winner is to play the victor of the Camp Point Central vs. Carrollton game in the quarterfinals. If Carrollton and Arcola win, the game is at Arcola.
"We are very similar up front," said Arcola coach Nick Lindsey, who won his first playoff game last week when the Purple Riders beat Salt Fork 31-13. "We are a little bigger I would say, but they are well suited for what they do."
What the Trojans do is run out of the wing 'T' and hand the ball off to either Zach Thompson, the coach's son, or Michael Burns. Thompson averages 8.4 yards per carry, while Burns is at 6.2 and both runners have over 1,000 yards on the season.
"They are both fast," said Lindsey of Thompson and Burns. "They are not real big, but run hard and do a great job of finding their holes. They understand their scheme and their offensive line does a real good job as well."
Concord coach Rich Thompson said, "We have three pretty good sized boys. Our line moves well and they are athletic. Our line has continued to get better throughout the year. Arcola is a little bigger, but I like our agility."
The Trojans' linemen include Adam Kleinschmidt, Connor Bridgewater, Tanner Allen (6-4, 240) and Zach Rouland (6-3, 230) as well as Ben Stanberry.
Lindsey, who is 15-5 in his second year, said the team plans to be there at 11:45 a.m. The high school is approximately 132 miles (two hours and 15 minutes) away and is on the west side of Jacksonville.
Arcola is led by Austin Hopkins who averages 6.8 yards per carry and has 1,389 yards. Beau Jones, the quarterback, averages 15.1 yards per completion and has 919 total yards with Diego Perez, the top receiver with 23 receptions for 337 yards.
"Arcola is a dual-threat offense and they can pose problems," said Thompson. "Their line is physical and I am impressed with the running back. Defensively, they are very tough up front with their front four. We will have to block well to move the ball."
Concord enters on a six-game winning streak and during that time have averaged 42.8 points and allowed 19.2. Overall the Trojans average 36.5 points and allow 17.9. Their only loss was to Camp Point Central 38-7 on Sept. 14 on the road.
"Defensively, they bring a lot of pressure and are pretty big," said Lindsey. "Offensively, their offense is hard to replicate. So the speed at which they run their stuff is difficult."
Thompson said they play a 5-3, but switch into a lot of fronts.
"Our strength has been our overall pursuit to the ball and we are strong in the secondary," said Thompson, who is 162-103 (.611) and in his 25th year overall, including stops at Virginia and Beardstown.
Thompson felt the opening win against Carrollton (22-14) as a big hurdle.
"Winning a big game on the road gave us confidence," said Thompson. "When we beat Beardstown (Class 3A playoff team, 35-34), the No. 7 3A team at the time, that was a big factor in our belief, and our players realized we may have something special."
Arcola has won three straight and averages 37.3, while allowing 20.3 during the streak. Overall the Purple Riders average 32.7 and allow 17.2. Their only losses were to Class 2A playoff team Tuscola 34-0 and Class 1A playoff team Argenta-Oreana 22-9.
Another thing both schools have in common besides line play is their tradition. This is the Trojans' first playoff appearance since 2014, and they recorded their first playoff win since 2012 last Saturday, beating Georgetown-Ridge Farm 34-13. However Concord has won two Class 1A state championships, in 1975 and 2008 (they beat Arcola 46-0 in the second round that season). They finished runner-up twice (1974, the first year of the playoff system and 1976). They are 38-22 and this is their 25th playoff appearance.
"They are another tradition-rich school that has had a lot of success," said Lindsey.
Arcola has won four Class 1A state titles (1978, 1985, 1988 and 2012) and has been the runner-up three times (1977, 1991 and 1995). The Purple Riders are making their 29th appearance and are 56-24 currently in the playoffs. This is Arcola's fifth straight playoff appearance, which is one behind the most (1988-1993, six times).
Being at home is huge, according to Thompson.
"The playoff atmosphere is great," said Thompson. "Being comfortable and not having to travel is a big deal."
If it comes down to extra points, both teams have a good kicker, with Concord's Dawsen Lemons booting 44 extra points and Arcola's Michael Garza making many extra points as well as a couple of field goals.
As for getting the lead first, Lindsey said, "I think it is important to get off to a good start, but we have done a great job of making adjustments all year and trying to find a rhythm."
Thompson said of Concord's keys to winning, "Play smart football with discipline, hold on to the ball and play solid defense."
Lindsey said for the Purple Riders to win, "We have to control their offense and be balanced on offense for us. Defensively we have to be great at reading keys and playing fast."