NIANTIC -- After a fairly even first half, Argenta-Oreana played like a team with a zero in the loss column in the second.
The Bombers' defense shored up the run defense and pounced on the passing game. Quarterback Brody Ulrey polished off all six touchdowns with his arm, hitting three different receivers twice for scores. And the 44-14 win on Friday night came against one of toughest opponents the Bombers had seen so far in Sangamon Valley.
"This is big. I'm not going to sugarcoat it," Argenta coach Chad Eisenmenger said. "You know, the big thing people were talking about us was we haven't beat anybody with a winning record."
Until Friday, Arcola was the lone team with a winning record that Argenta (7-0) had beaten. Friday helped boost the Bombers' resume.
It was back and forth throughout the first half until Argenta snuck in a touchdown just before the horn. With 1:38 left, the Bombers needed less than a minute before Ulrey found Parker Haltom for a 14-yard touchdown.
It was the defense's time to shine come the second half. Jared Gifford picked off Nate Highley on Sangamon Valley's (5-2) first drive, and Haltom later added two more interceptions.
"I had my man, and I just went with him and looked at the quarterback's eyes," Haltom said. "I knew if he's not looking at my line, I'd fly off and make a play."
And throughout the night, Argenta kept holding on fourth and short, stopping Sangamon Valley on yardages of 4, 1, 1 and 6.
"Offense is where the glamour is," Eisenmenger said. "Everybody wants to talk about the passing yards, rushing yards, Parker, Brody. But the thing that nobody understands is that we wouldn't be doing these things without our defense.
"Our defense does a good job getting off the field, letting our offense put up points on the board and taking teams out of their game."
That offense did that plenty times over, and Argenta kept adding more wrinkles as Ulrey broke out his running legs. The quarterback made plenty of defenders miss while rushing for 128 yards on 18 carries, carrying the ball on crucial downs and scampering in on a 2-point conversion. He nearly doubled his 170 yards he had coming into the game.
"Well you know, he's slippery, he's smart," Eisenmenger said. "He's not a top sprinter by any means, but he knows how to get yards."
After Argenta jumped out to a 16-0 lead, Sangamon Valley seemed to find its footing. The Storm sustained a nine-play drive for a score before Highley ran 94 yards for a touchdown up the right sideline.
Wyatt Royce finished with 120 yards on 21 carries, but the Storm couldn't find much else besides Highley's long run. And as the offense stagnated in the second, Sangamon Valley coach Michael Lee his Storm defense wear down.
"I think it just came down to too many possessions on offense," Lee said. "And an offense that good is going to catch up with you."
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Argenta can't celebrate long with 6-1 LSA team looming next week. But a complete win on the road adds another layer of momentum to the Bombers. After a two-win season, a home playoff game is now a very real scenario for Argenta.
"This one proves we can play with whoever we want to play with," Eisenmenger said.
All the time
Argenta's combo of providing enough time for Ulrey, plus Ulrey's ability to avoid defenders without too much trouble makes the passing game so effective.
On the touchdown pass just before half, Ulrey had nearly seven seconds before finding Haltom, who ran his route before finding open space.
"Their quarterback does a nice job," Lee said. "There were times I thought we had nice coverage and he still found some people. They're just kind of a complete team."
Few seek out the ball as well as Argenta junior Trevor Webb.
Perhaps the biggest play the linebacker made was early in the game, holding the lightning bug Wyatt Royce to the line of scrimmage on fourth-and-1.
Not playing favorites
Ulrey finished for 14-of-23 passing for 151 yards and six touchdowns -- two each to Pierce Bradford, Parker Haltom and Colton Robinson.
Robinson is the freshest face of the three, having just five catches coming into the game. But he caught three on Friday, and his two touchdowns gives Argenta seven different players who have caught a touchdown from Ulrey.
Lee said it was frustrating enough to keep Haltom and Bradford in check.
"They're tough, don't get me wrong, with their personnel and what they do formation-wise isn't tricky, but the scheme out of it and when they put (Haltom) and (Bradford) on different sides, it makes it tough to cover," Lee said.