Sports Editor MATT DANIELS checks in with three area teams before the Friday night lights turn on:
ARCOLA — Nick Lindsey knew this summer was different than his first two coaching the Arcola football team.The reason? Playing at Argenta-Oreana in Week 1 and then hosting nearby rival Tuscola in Week 2. Lindsey, the third-year Arcola coach, hopes this Friday night turns out like it did last Friday night, when Arcola won 43-6 at A-O, a Class 1A state semifinal team from a year ago.
Next up is Tuscola, which advanced to the 2A state quarterfinals in 2018.
“We had to put a little more into this summer than we have in the past just to get us ready for the first couple weeks,” Lindsey said. “It helps that we’ve brought a lot back, and it’s nice to see where you’re at early on.”
If Arcola (1-0) can bring the same kind of stout defense to Thomas-Bradford Field as it did to the turf at A-O last week, good things might be in store. The Purple Riders limited the Bombers to 204 yards of total offense and snagged three interceptions.
Lindsey credited the efforts of senior linebacker Pedro Gauna and sophomore linebacker Jed Jones for the strong showing.
“I thought they played about as well as they could,” Lindsey said. “For us, it was about setting the edge, staying disciplined in our gaps and not letting them bounce things outside. I was really impressed with how well we tackled, and I was impressed with how physical we were.”
Now, a 2-0 start is there for the taking. If the Purple Riders can get past the Warriors.
“Tuscola is always going to be physical, be big and move well,” Lindsey said. “Setting the tone and controlling the line of scrimmage is going to be key for us. It’ll be a great test, and a great environment. I know our kids are looking forward to it.”
TUSCOLA — Logan Tabeling will play Division I baseball at Wright State. Yet the Tuscola senior is also the Warriors’ starting quarterback.Jalen Quinn has a handful of Division I men’s basketball teams interested in his recruitment. Yet the sophomore is a key cog at receiver, quarterback and defensive back for the Warriors.
And Tuscola coach Andy Romine is all for it.
“Football is really important to them,” Romine said. “They don’t look at this and say, ‘Well, this is just my secondary sport.’ They look at this and say, ‘This is my chance to leave my mark on Tuscola football.’”
Both contributed during Tuscola’s 55-14 home win in Week 1 against Villa Grove/Heritage. And both will need to produce again if the Warriors (1-0) want to leave with a Cola Wars win on Friday night at Arcola.
“Arcola is very good,” Romine said. “When you start looking at some of Unity’s great teams, and the way they played technically up front on the offensive line, that’s what Arcola looks like right now.”
Containing Arcola senior running back Austin Hopkins, who rushed for 144 yards and two touchdowns in Week 1, is a major point of emphasis for the Warriors’ defense.
“If Hopkins has got a seam, he’s going to hit it,” Romine said. “When it comes to Friday night, if we can’t get Hopkins’ feet stopped at the line of scrimmage and make him work laterally, it’s going to be a long night for us.”
Tuscola won last season’s game against Arcola, pulling away for a 34-0 win at Memorial Field in Tuscola. The Warriors have won 12 in a row in the series — last year’s game was the first one since 2011 — and own an overall 55-44-6 advantage all-time.
“Our kids seem to find a way to be up for big challenges,” Romine said. “They’re really excited to see what we can do when we get down to Arcola.”
RANTOUL — For two quarters last Friday night, Rantoul hung with Prairie Central.The Eagles only trailed the Hawks 20-14 at halftime, giving coach Tom Hess’ team a realistic chance at a season-opening win once the second half kicked off. Against a program that went 7-3 last season and reached the Class 4A playoffs, no less.
But two blocked punts by Prairie Central and costly defensive miscues by Rantoul played a role in the Eagles leaving Fairbury with a 42-20 loss.
“We made some big plays at times, but we just weren’t lining up right and taking care of our assignments on defense,” Hess said. “Undisciplined football kind of cost us the game.”
The Eagles (0-1, 0-1 Illini Prairie) will look to regroup at 7 p.m. Friday, when they host St. Joseph-Ogden (1-0, 1-0) at Bill Walsh Field in Rantoul’s home opener and homecoming game.
Rantoul quarterback Luke Zech went 11 of 21 for 113 passing yards and one touchdown and a team-high 52 rushing yards on 14 carries, with Colin Wilkerson hauling in four receptions for 68 yards against Prairie Central.
“Luke did well,” Hess said. “He doesn’t seem to get rattled and stays composed. I was pretty happy with his performance.”
But defensive breakdowns that allowed big plays to Prairie Central’s Connor Casner (146 rushing yards on 12 carries, two TDs) and Kaden King (142 rushing yards on six carries, one TD) ultimately did in Rantoul, which has only won four season openers in the last 20 seasons.
“We feel like we’re beyond the point of feeling encouraged by being close,” Hess said. “We want to be winning. We weren’t surprised that we were close. We were more surprised that we weren’t able to stop them.”