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VANDALIA – With the two quarterbacks to be featured in this Friday night’s game having combined for 583 passing yards last week, the defensive backs better be ready to play.
Vandalia junior Collin Nestleroad and Litchfield senior Alex Hull will face off in a quarterbacking battle in Litchfield, as Vandalia searches for its first victory on the season against the 1-3 Purple Panthers, who have posted plenty of points this fall.
“They look like they are improved over the last several years,” said Vandalia coach John Stout. “The quarterback can throw, and they definitely have showed some offensive improvement.”
Litchfield’s offense has been consistent this fall, scoring between 26 and 30 points in all four games.
Three of those games came against teams that are still undefeated, so with the toughest games out of the way, the Purple Panthers are certainly hoping to make a run to the playoffs over the final five games.
So this is definitely not the Litchfield team that has scored just six points against Vandalia since 2010 or beaten the Vandals (0-4) since 2009.
Part of the help has come from a co-op agreement with Raymond-Lincolnwood, which has brought several new faces to the team, and part of it, Stout said, has come from a more-committed approach to running the ball.
“They are mixed,” he said. “They are trying to run the ball more, and they have some guys who can get out on the edge.”
The Purple Panthers are still a pass-first offense, however, as Hull has thrown 96 times in the past three games since replacing the injured Ryan Howard, completing 54 of those passes for 820 yards – including 368 last week.
But the ground game has been there, as Litchfield has carried the ball 117 times on the year for 391 yards.
The number of carries has varied from game to game, however, as the Purple Panthers ran just 17 times against Gillespie and 13 times last week at Staunton, while rushing 43 times at Greenville and 44 times against Southwestern.
Vandalia hopes to continue the prolific attack that was established during last Friday’s 49-36 loss to Roxana.
Not only did the Vandals more than double their season scoring output in that game, they also racked up a season-high 459 yards with a balanced offense (244 rushing and 215 passing).
“We had success on the sweep to set up the pass,” Stout said. “We’ll have to be able to run and throw to put points on them, and hopefully, the special teams won’t give up or set up a score.”
Nestleroad has passed for 306 yards on 15 completions this season, but his yardage total has increased in each game as he gets more familiar with his receivers.
Still, the Vandals are a run-first offense, with 657 yards on 126 carries, as opposed to 387 yards through the air on 19-of-49 attempts.
Defensively, Litchfield will present a challenge, as the Vandals have surrendered at least 40 points in all four games this season.
But Stout said that his players are realizing after the Roxana loss that a few stops on third down can make a difference in the final score.
“We have the realization that if we can keep improving and knocking the mistakes down, we’ll have a better chance of winning,” he said. “They know now that if they can control some things that it will be put us in a better spot to win.”