ARGENTA — Garrett Gloede used the lights from the new Argenta-Oreana football facility perfectly to his advantage.
After the Argenta receiver caught a pass near mid-field from quarterback Josh Williams with one Arcola defender to beat, Gloede looked down and watched Arcola's Austin Hopkins in the shadow of the turf.
Gloede had to weave and break free of the defense before finally finding the end zone for what proved to be a game-winning 86-yard touchdown reception with 3:37 left in Friday's Little Okaw Valley Northwest showdown against Arcola.
It was the first Bombers score since the first quarter, and a pivotal strike in the fourth on the way to a 22-9 conference win.
“Josh put me in a really good position," Gloede said. "He put the ball inside of my defender so I could break away for it and from there on it was green grass."
The shadow method was new to almost everyone on the Bombers (7-0, 4-0).
“That’s advanced thinking," Williams said.
Said Argenta head coach Steve Kirk: “I’ve never heard anybody do that before, but if it works it works."
Argenta's crowd erupted as Gloede sprinted down the sideline and into the end zone. And, for that matter, so did running back Makhi Stanley.
“I was part of it," Stanley said. "I couldn’t stop screaming. I had to kneel down because I ran out of breath."
On the ensuing Arcola possession, trailing 14-9 with 3:32 left in the game and a chance to retake the lead, the Purple Riders (5-2, 3-1) turned the ball over on downs after a sack from Stanley.
Stanley felt the momentum shift in that moment. He got to his feet and let out a burst of emotion.
“This whole game, oh man, this whole game, much respect to Arcola, the team, we had our fits and our arguments, but at the end we all came together," Stanley said. "That sack, it just pumped me up."
On the very next Argenta play, Williams, who was 12 of 19 for 160 yards and two touchdowns, approached Kirk and called his own running play.
“I called the last play," Williams said. "I was like, ‘I got this.’"
Josh Williams ➡️ Makail Stanley for a 16-yard TD pass.
He broke free of a pair of tackles for a 25-yard score with 2:10 left to extend the lead to 22-9 and effectively end the game.
“We’ve trusted him a lot this year," Kirk said. "He knows the game better, he knows the offense to the point now that if he sees something and he can give me a valid reason why something’s happening, then I’ll let him go with it."
After holding an Argenta offense that came into the game averaging 45.6 points per game to 14 points with two minutes left, and eight points through three quarters, Arcola coach Nick Lindsey knew his team had to go for broke.
When Williams had the ball, the Purple Riders abandoned normal tackling methods in an attempt to rip the ball from Williams.
“We were in a situation where it was kind of do or die and the only way we were going to get another opportunity was if we were going to get the ball out," Lindsey said. "He broke a couple tackles, so it is what it is."
The Arcola defensive line, anchored by Hugo Garza, Ivan Garza, Beau Smothers and Myles Roberts, put a clamp on an otherwise dynamic Argenta running attack.
“That’s definitely the strength of our team is up front offensively and defensively," Lindsey said. "I couldn’t ask for anything more out of them. Our plan was executed well. For explosive as they are, they’re averaging (45.6) points per game, so to hold them essentially to 14, I couldn’t be more proud of our defense."
The Bombers took control over the conference with the win, moving one game ahead of second-place Arcola.
But it was the first time that a team had really tested the Bombers through 12 weeks.
Prior to Friday's game, the closest game the Bombers had played was a 16-point win over Fithian Oakwood in Week 3.
Last year's senior class had made it a point to remind the team that they hadn't faced a real test, and cautioned this year's group that the schedule would backfire on the Bombers in the playoffs.
“A game like this, with the team seeing what facing adversity is like and actually running with it and pushing through it, I think is going to help us push even further into the playoffs," Stanley said.
Said Gloede: “It proved that we’re mentally tough and physically tough. I knew we had always been physically tough and I’m glad that we have been pushed mentally."
The Bombers' defensive line was without starter Mack Jones, who was replaced by Michael Redpath. Senior stalwart Kyle Rigsby left after the first quarter with an injury.
The injuries, combined with 10 Bomber penalties and an inability to gash the Arcola defense, posed the greatest threat this season.
"Really, for the first time all year they had to face a little adversity and they rose to the challenge," Kirk said. "I’m proud of how they reacted and how they came back. That’s a testament to those guys."
The lone offensive touchdown for Arcola came on a 14-yard pass from quarterback Beau Jones to Ben Crane, who caught the ball near the five-yard line and stretched the ball over the goal line for a score to give the Purple Riders a 9-8 lead with five seconds left in the third quarter before Argenta scored 14 consecutive points.
Beau Jones to Ben Crane on a 14-yard TD pass on fourth down. What a diving effort by Crane.