Purple Riders keep pressing forward

Purple Riders keep pressing forward

ARCOLA — New lights surround Thomas-Bradford Field just outside Arcola High School.

But the passionate fans who follow Arcola football won't get to see them lit up on a Friday night for a regular season game until Sept. 21.

By the time the Purple Riders play their first night home game this season against Cerro Gordo/Bement, those same supporters should have a pretty good idea of what to expect from Arcola this fall.

Which, if all goes according to plan for second-year coach Nick Lindsey's program, means another playoff appearance, with aspirations for a deep postseason run alive and well in the small Douglas County town that has already celebrated four football state titles in its history.

A scheduling quirk has Arcola — which finished 7-3 last season and made the Class 1A playoffs — opening its season at home at 2 p.m. on Aug. 25 against South Beloit before three straight road games.

"When schedules get weird, you have to look around for games, and South Beloit was open," Lindsey said. "But it's pretty much impossible to play them on a Friday night."

The first of those three consecutive road games is at Tuscola on Aug. 31, the first time the long-time rivals will meet since 2011. For Lindsey and the rest of his 45-man roster, it'll mark their first experience in the Cola Wars.

"It'll be a special time around here when Week 2 rolls around," Lindsey said, "but right now, we're just trying to get better each day and focus on South Beloit."

Who will take snaps under center for the Purple Riders is still up in the air. Either 5-foot-8, 162-pound junior Dale Still or sophomore Beau Jones (5-9, 155) will try to replace the production of two-year starter Conner Strader, who compiled 3,803 yards of total offense and 44 touchdowns the last two seasons.

"We've got a QB battle going on," Lindsey said Tuesday afternoon. "We'll probably decide it by the end of this week."

Junior Austin Hopkins (5-8, 165) returns after leading the Purple Riders with 1,003 rushing yards and 14 TDs last season.

"He's one of the hardest-working kids I've ever been around," Lindsey said. "More than anything, he brings a toughness to our offense. He's one of those kids that he may not be the fastest, but he's going to outwork you."

Junior Pedro Guana (5-9, 171) is another option in the backfield, with junior Diego Perez (5-6, 130), sophomore Ivan Franco (5-7, 140), junior Ben Crane (5-10, 145) and senior Alec Downs (6-0, 145) likely to catch passes.

Anchoring the offensive line for Arcola's spread offense is junior left tackle Hugo Garza (6-2, 275). Two other starters on the line return in junior left guard Beau Smothers (6-3, 250) and senior right tackle Myles Roberts (6-2, 190). Defensively, the Purple Riders will count on senior linebacker Kaleb Byard (5-11, 185), Guana at linebacker, Garza at defensive tackle, Roberts at defensive end and junior Ivan Garza (5-10, 200) at defensive end to help the program reach a fifth straight playoff appearance.

After losing 42-28 to Brown County in last year's first round, another quick postseason exit isn't on Arcola's mind.

"We didn't play our best game and made some mistakes, but it was a learning experience for all of our kids," Lindsey said. "We had such a young team last year, but I'm excited to see what this year brings. How hard they've worked shows how important football is, not only to the community, but also to our kids."

ARCOLA'S 2018 SCHEDULE

DATE OPPONENT TIME

Aug. 25 vs. South Beloit 2 p.m.

Aug. 31 at Tuscola 7 p.m.

Sept. 7 at Cumberland 7 p.m.

Sept. 14 at ALAH 7 p.m.

Sept. 21 vs. Cerro Gordo/Bement 7 p.m.

Sept. 28 vs. Sangamon Valley 7 p.m.

Oct. 5 at Argenta-Oreana 7 p.m.

Oct. 12 vs. Decatur Lutheran 7 p.m.

Oct. 19 vs. Tri-County 7 p.m.

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