The predicted conference title preview turned into a cinch.
Alma proved itself worthy of preseason expectations and sent Vilonia into a battle for a playoff berth the home team’s 40-7 whipping Friday night at Airedale Stadium.
It’s been eight years since Alma has hosted a postseason game. One win in the final two weeks will end that streak. Though it’s unlikely to be as easy it was Friday.
"We just preach to our kids every week, especially these last three weeks, we’re playing a playoff-caliber team every week," Alma coach Doug Loughridge said. "Vilonia’s fighting for playoffs. Greenbrier’s fighting for playoffs and of course Shiloh (Christian) is coming down probably for the conference championship. Our guys have done a great job staying focused."
Malachi White was the central figure offensively for Alma. He racked up 66 yards on a 72-yard drive, capping it with a touchdown run, that all but sealed the Eagles’ fate midway through the second quarter. He added another score in the third and finished with 76 yards rushing and 16 yards receiving, sitting out the entire second half after his half-opening touchdown run.
Vilonia’s offense looked the part early and Loughridge was wondering if his team would be able to slow it.
It lasted all of two drives.
The Eagles were plagued by 11 drops from the receivers, including four on plays that were beyond the first-down yard marker. And since the passing game, which yielded 54 attempts, never found its groove, the Eagles never found theirs. An interception return for a touchdown from Junior Edwards broke a 7-7 tie early in the second quarter.
"Once the game got adjusted, once the speed got adjusted, our defense kind of took over," Loughridge said.
The same time Vilonia’s offense stalled, Alma’s clicked.
Quarterback Evan Burris connected on a 45-yard touchdown pass to Ricky Robbins to end the first half, White picked up his second score to start the third quarter and after Vilonia threw another interception one play later, Burris connected on another touchdown toss, 35 yards to Thomas Hall.
"Every time (White) got the ball he was making some tough runs and breaking tackles. That kind of loosened up everything we could do with Evan throwing it and our quarterback option game. I think Malachi was a big part of getting those offensive series’ going."
Burris finished 8-of-10 for 124 yards and the two touchdowns. He added another 79 yards on the ground and also sat after his second touchdown pass.
Vilonia moved into Alma territory four times in the first half alone, but finished with the one touchdown - a 4-yard run by Kent Madden - to go along with two turnovers on downs and a punt. The Eagles had 196 yards of total offense in the first half, but only 77 in the second.
A road trip to Greenbrier, which is tied with Vilonia and Clarksville for the West’s final playoff spot, remains in Week 9 before Shiloh Christian’s visit in the finale. Loughridge said he didn’t want to jinx anything, but his Airedales were beginning to sharpen their game.
"We want to think that," he said. "That’s what we said - we didn’t want to play our best football weeks one, two and three. We wanted to play it eight, nine and 10. Our kids are getting superstitious. They don’t change things up and we just make it work."