In 1985, Arcola put together the perfect season -- a 14-0 record and a 1A state championship.
Thirty years later, it’s remarkably eerie how close history is to repeating itself.
The two Riders teams were coming off 10-1 seasons where numerous starters returned for their senior year. Arcola was led by a stout defense and a powerful run game led by No. 32 (then Jon Monahan/now Wyatt Fishel). Throughout the regular season, no team was close to challenging Arcola – no game was closer than 25 points.
The 1985 team was led by coaches Steve Thomas and Byron Bradford, the two Arcola’s field is named after. Thomas compiled a 210-90-2 record, three state championships and two runner-ups in his 30 years as head coach.
Jon Monahan, RB/LB, Class of ‘86: He was very consistent and very fundamental oriented. We didn't do a lot of fancy stuff, we did the same thing in and out.
Joe Schrock, OL/DL, Class of ‘86: All four coaches were fantastic. They took a group of freshmen every year and turned them into young men. What was really good about the coaches is they were just as interested what you did on the field as off the field. If one guy was down on grades, he'd ask another guy to step in and tutor.
Bert Ray, OL/DL, Class of ‘86: I would always go to the Thomas' or the Monahans' because I lived in the country. So I just stayed in town. And Steve, away from football, was a totally different person. Different animal. Whenever I would sit in the house and have supper with them, he was just totally different. He was a fly fisherman, he liked to tie flies.
But it was just Jekyll and Hyde -- when that guy got onto the field leading up to '85 team, his talent would come out once he hit the field. He just knew what to do.
Duane Boyd, QB, Class of ‘86: I’m a little biased, because (Bradford's) my cousin, but Bradford and Thomas were a good combination. They balanced each other real well.
Bradford, I’m 47 and I’ve known him for most of my life, I don’t think I’ve ever heard him say a cuss word in my entire life. Thomas was the rough one -- ‘Get your ass here.’
Everybody respected Bradford. I remember getting in trouble one time in junior year and all Mr. Bradford did was fold him arms and he almost had tears in his eyes. He just looked down and said, ‘I’m really disappointed.’ And you could’ve hit me with a baseball bat and it would’ve hurt less than that.
Boyd: (Randy Rothrock) did the freshmen and the JV program, and by god, our team never lost a game until BCC. By the time we got to our junior year, Randy coached us so well, they just plugged guys in and kept going.
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Many of the ’85 seniors started on the ’84 team that went 10-1. That lone loss, a 17-7 defeat to Bloomington Central Catholic, would be the only loss that senior class had in its four years.
Boyd: We thought we should have won it our junior year, but we had some injuries.
Schrock: The senior class, that team was a very good team. Guys like Warren Arthur. It was a game that I think we could have won. There were just some things that didn't go our way.
Being in a tight game and losing definitely stuck with us. In some respects, it felt like the seniors deserved more. I think that really prepared us in the offseason. We were really prepared to play as seniors.
Monahan: It prepared us for the next year. You can see that with this year's team too.
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Arcola’s first nine games didn’t present much of a challenge – the Riders won by at least 30 points every game.
Mike Davis, TE/LB, Class of ‘86: I think we were preseason No. 1. I remember coach Thomas telling us that means nothing. But there were expectations for us out of the gate.
Ray: I tell you what, getting to state was kind of a blur. I don't know how everybody else was, but as far as me, I didn't think we were that good. We finally made it. We went through opponents, we were wiping them out.
Monahan: We played Tuscola first. We always played Tuscola first, and if we did well in that game, we did well for the year.
Schrock: The first game, there's always a bunch of smack talk. Nobody knows how good anybody really is until you start the season.
Davis: We were big rivals, and we went down the week before driving through town shouting and yelling, as stupid as you can be.
But the very first kickoff, we kicked off, I wished I remembered the guy's name, but I hit him and knocked him out for the game. From then on, they had nothing to answer. We pretty much set the tone with that, and that was pretty much every game, we knocked them out. Hold no punches back. We took pride in hurting people.
Monahan: Villa Grove was tough that year too. ... We played playoff caliber teams. We played Villa Grove, Tuscola. Cerro Gordo was always tough because they played that damn hide the ball offense. And Oakland. What rode us more than anything was the loss to Bloomington the year before.
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No team scored more than a touchdown against Arcola during that 1985 season, and the defense only allowed 73 points total. They were nicknamed the ‘Crunch Bunch.’
Monahan: I honestly don't know where that came from. Pretty much everybody played both ways, but we were pretty sound up front for 1A at the time. Me and Mike Davis as linebackers, we didn't get touched. We got lots of tackles because nobody could cut through the front four -- Ray, Schrock, (Tom) Reece, Jeff Butler, Roi Ray. Sometimes it was a five-man front.
Ray: When we got out on the field and we started playing, everybody always wanted to hear a pop -- helmets pop, shoulder pads pop. I guess whenever we were on the field, that happened. You hear a lot of crunching going on, and that's where it came from.
Davis: I think it was pretty much the mentality. We took it personal with every first down – You can’t have that. I think it was attitude as much as anything.
We, honestly, it may sound bad, but we wanted to hurt somebody.
Ray: And we were fast. The four-man front, the defense flows like a flock of birds or a fish in water. You get to see a team that's played together so long, they're all tight and cohesive. Man, when that ball was snapped we was on that ball.
Yeah, we took on that persona so-to-speak. We started believing it and living it, so we had to start punching people in the mouth just to live up to it and leave our mark. It took on a life of its own. It was pretty funny, pretty clever looking back on it.
Schrock: That led to coach Bradford being named Captain Crunch.
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Offensively, Arcola powered over teams with its running attack. Jon Monahan finished with 1,951 yards and 39 touchdowns (an IHSA record).
Schrock: He was just a hard runner. He had strong legs and was a good runner and he had a good line. I think it was just the dynamic of the whole team.
Ray: Heck, (it was) having me in front of him. (laughter)
I even went up to the coach, I said, 'Coach, you need a yard or two, put him behind me." I was the first one to raise my hand out of any of those guys. Linemen didn't get a lot of recognition in the trenches, they never do. We're not the glorified guys, but that didn't matter. Bust open a hole and follow our assignments.
But yeah, that's how they got their yardage. Jon knows that.
Monahan: We had huge holes up front. There was minimum seven yards no matter who was carrying it.
Going into the playoffs -- I'm not the fastest guy -- coach Thomas was a great coach. He totally changed the offense throughout the year because Mitch Thomas was hurt. He had speed. And David Uphoff got hurt earlier in the season and he had speed.
Boyd: We didn’t throw the ball much, but we ran some veer. We just had a hell of a running game. Jon had 2,000 yards and he didn’t even play the second half of games. He could’ve doubled his total.
Davis: We used the passing as a run, run, run, run … pass. I think I was the leading receiver with 35 catches. It wasn’t a big pass-oriented offense. We ran a veer option. It’s a little different than it is now but similar.
Boyd: We knew what we were reading. Our offensive line would make four, five calls pre-snap. Those guys were moving around – that wasn’t especially common back then in Class 1 through 3A.
Monahan: Our practices were probably tougher than 50-60 percent of our games. I'm serious.
Boyd: We held each other accountable. I think that’s what made us a little different. The coaches didn’t have to ride us. We were a pretty self-motivated group.
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The postseason played out like the regular season. Arcola busted out to early leads and won by an average of 41 points. But the most memorable game came against BCC in a rematch of the '84 playoff loss. After losing 17-7, Arcola routed the Saints 36-3 in '85.
Schrock: Coach Rothrock, he was an outstanding motivator. And the night before the game, he actually put the score of the previous year’s game on the scoreboard. Let it flash all night long and he wanted to make sure we didn't forget.
And then the next day, walking on to that field, the whole town remembered what happened. There were so many people there, it was unbelievable. It was electric.
Ray: We were on a mission when got out there on the turf when Bloomington Central Catholic showed up. Me and my brother and the Crunch Bunch, the mission was to put some hurt on them.
Davis: The biggest thing was there had to be a 35-mile per hour wind that day. When we won the toss, we didn’t take the ball, we didn’t defer, we took the wind. Which is unusual.
They had to punt, and I think the punt went back over the guys’ head, so we got the ball early and scored, and scored again. I think it was a statement – we’ll give you the ball and we’ll see what you can do with it.
Schrock: Being able to win it the way it did, that's an experience I'll always remember.
Ray: We just blitzed them, I think they had like three points. We just walked out there -- and you know what, it was that game where I thought we were pretty decent. We coulda scored a lot more.
Davis: We were pretty hellbent on avenging that loss. And they played a 3A schedule.
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Arcola went on to beat Hardin Calhoun 32-6 to advance to the state championship game. They drew Durand and played at Hancock Stadium on Illinois State’s campus. The Riders played their closest game of the year -- 14-6 -- but an early 59-yard Monahan touchdown had Arcola leading the whole way.
Davis: We practiced the week before at U of I. We got to practice on the turf the week prior.
I remember the worst part was the 10, 11 a.m. start. It was way cold. And for 1A, our stadium’s pretty small with the bleachers and then you walk into a big stadium you get a little awestruck about it. It’s a good reward for your efforts.
Ray: Amazing. Never had that feeling before, and when we walked in there and see all the people in the stands -- I've said it before, the hair on the back of your head, your arms, you feel it. It's just an awesome feeling. I'm not playing in this game, but going up to DeKalb, I'm psyched.
Monahan: We weren't the fastest team, and it was bitterly cold that morning. And that turf, everybody -- well at least I was -- was slipping all over the place.
Boyd: It snowed, and the snow was OK, but they zambonied that damn turf. It wasn’t much snow, but it turned to ice. We had to shave our cleats down at halftime to get some footing.
Monahan: If we could have scored after blocking that punt, we would have put away a bigger championship. I don't want to say it was disappointing not to win by more (laughter) but ...
I think that's a record that's still in the books, punting 8 or 9 times. (Editor's note: Durand's nine punts is a 1A record)
Ray: I remember in the championship game, when Jon made that (first) touchdown, I was running down the field with him and I think Joe was with us too.
And, man, the biggest thing was I was looking back to see if there were any flags. I remember turning around, please lord, don't let there be a flag. Jon got there, the ref had his hands up, a couple seconds passed and I remember picking Jon up in the end zone.
Schrock: It was definitely nerve-wracking because it was never in the bag, so it was definitely a different feeling.
Davis: We were more frustrated because we had a couple of turnovers and we just weren’t doing like we normally done all year. We were letting then hang around. It wasn’t worrisome, it was frustrating. But they weren’t doing much. I think they scored a late touchdown and I blocked the extra point.
Boyd: We had penalties and turnovers, something that never happened. But we won it, that’s all that mattered. But we did want to play Casey. We were both undefeated, both from the same area in central Illinois.
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Casey won the Class 2A title, beating Woodstock Marian 34-6
Ray: We just knew we were a good enough football team to stay ahead of them, no matter what they threw at us.
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The victory sealed Arcola’s second championship and the only perfect season in the Riders’ history.
Schrock: We were obviously very proud of it. Football in Arcola is huge. It was a big year, we had been playing for those coaches for four years.
Monahan: I think it meant a lot to continuity. People coming out and being interested. We barely had 200 people in the school. If you have 2-3 kids that don't come out, you might not have a team. It was a rally point for the entire community, and that really reinforced the commitment to the game.
Ray: You know, being from a small town and such a small program. We made a statement. We're a small town, but look what we did.
Davis: It’s like you won the presidency almost. It’s like you’re on top of the world, everybody is ecstatic everywhere you go. It’s a euphoria, almost to the point of -– it was more for the town than for ourselves, and you don’t realize that until after you've seen everybody’s reaction.
You win it and everything that comes with it and reflect, it was more than I thought it was.