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.”