Preps Talk

Arcola pulls away from Stark County to nab 1A state title

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Arcola pulls away from Stark County to nab 1A state title

DE KALB, ILL.--Arcola senior Clayton Strader said it took him longer than expected to figure out Stark County's defense in the Illinois Class 1A championship game.

Then he went to town. Strader ran for two touchdowns and threw for two more in the unbeaten Purple Riders' 35-17 victory over the Rebels on Friday at Huskie Stadium.

"Like Gibson City, they were coming off the edge," Strader said. "I was waiting to see how they'd respond to certain plays."

Strader's savvy and three Stark County turnovers helped lead Arcola (14-0) to three straight touchdowns in less than nine minutes in the first half en route to its fourth state title and first since 1988.

"Special teams was huge for us," Arcola coach Zach Zehr said. "Field position was flipped a couple of times."

Chase Strader, Clayton's brother, started the streak with a 15-yard interception return of John Groter's pass to pull within 7-6 with 56 seconds left in the first quarter. Clayton Strader scored on a 13-yard run early in the second quarter, then added a 27-yard scoring pass to Kollin Seaman to make it 21-7.

Clayton Strader finished the season with 22 rushing touchdowns and 17 more passing.

Stark County (13-1) scored first on Chase Johnston's 11-yard run with 8:13 left in the first quarter but lost starting quarterback John Groter to a left knee injury on a rollout play midway through the second quarter and managed only 10 more points.

"I'd like to have played the whole game with John under center," Stark County coach Jade Noard said. "After John was out they came after us a little bit."

Johnston gained 112 yards on 29 carries for Stark County.

Arcola was 3-6 two years ago, when most of this year's seniors started as sophomores, but improved to 10-1 last year, setting the stage for this season's title.

"They probably weren't ready physically as sophomores, but mentally it paid off," Zehr said. "There isn't anything they haven't seen."

63 Days to Kickoff: Shepard

63 Days to Kickoff: Shepard

NBCSportsChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting July 30, we’ll unveil the @NBCSPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 24.

School: Shepard

Head coach: John Rone

Assistant coaches: Andrew Porter, Ron Rivera, Chris Lewis, Ryan McGuire and Clint Connelly

How they fared in 2017: 8-2 (5-1 South Suburban Red Conference). Shepard made the Class 6A state football playoff field. The Astros lost to Marmion Academy in opening round action. 

2018 Regular Season Schedule:

Aug. 24 @ Leyden

Sept. 1 @ Stagg

Sept 7 vs Hillcrest

Sept. 14 vs Eisenhower

Sept. 21 @ Richards

Sept. 28 @ Oak Lawn

Oct. 5 vs Reavis

Oct. 12 vs Evergreen Park

Oct. 19 @ Argo

Biggest storyline: First-year head coach John Rone. Can the Astros challenge once again for the South Suburban Red conference title under a new head coach?

Names to watch this season: RB/LB Chris Harrison and TE/DE Kevin Graham

Biggest holes to fill: The Astros bring back 10 returning starters (five offense, five defense). Overall depth could also be a concern.  

EDGY's Early Take: Shepard will be led by former Eisenhower assistant Rone, who was able to retain an experienced staff at Shepard. It will help ease the transition from former head coach Dominic Passolano this summer. If the Astros can get off to a good early start they have the overall talent to again make a state playoff appearance in 2018. Can they challenge conference power Richards in the South Suburban Red race?

64 Days to Kickoff: T.F. South

64 Days to Kickoff: T.F. South

Head coach: Bob Padjen

Assistant coaches: Trent Jensen, Jesse Kikkert, Jonathan Hill, Doug Smith, Mike Tisza, Rob Shell and Tim Russell

How they fared in 2017: 6-4 (3-3 South Suburban Blue Conference), T.F. South made the Class 6A state football playoff field. The Rebels lost to Danville in opening round action. 

2018 Regular Season Schedule:

Aug. 24 @ Thornwood

Sept. 1 vs Julian

Sept. 7 vs Oak Forest

Sept. 14 @ TF North

Sept. 21 vs Bremen

Sept. 28 @ Reavis

Oct. 5 vs Hillcrest

Oct. 12 @ Lemont

Oct. 19 @ Tinley Park

[MORE: 86 Days to Kickoff - Reavis]

Biggest storyline: T.F. South has advanced to the playoffs 20 times in the past 24 seasons. Can the Rebels get back to the IHSA state playoff field and make more noise this fall?

Names to watch this season: QB Kamron Clayton LB Michael Smith

Biggest holes to fill: The Rebels will need to replace seven starters on each side of the football this fall. 

EDGY's Early Take: T.F. South head coach Bob Padjen was able to keep the Rebels on a winning path in his first season as Rebels head coach after several years serving in an assistant role. South always has talent. If the underclassmen can step up this summer, look for the Rebels to challenge for the top half of the South Suburban Blue conference race.