Vandals hope to weather ‘Storm’

The National Weather Service is forecasting a slight chance of thunderstorms in the area Friday night.

But you can rest assured, there is a 100 percent chance of a storm passing through Vandalia at about 7 p.m.

The only question is whether it’ll be of the severe variety or a mere thundershower.

The Sangamon Valley Storm will be visiting Mark Greer Field for its first-ever meeting with the Vandals in both teams’ 2008 season-opener.

The Little Okaw Valley Conference member will bring quite a resum with it, as the Class 2A program has qualified for the playoffs all four years since Niantic-Harristown and Illiopolis consolidated to form the Macon County school back in 2004.

But gone from head coach Mark Lee’s 7-4 second-round playoff team is a boatload of senior contributors, including stud running back Ross Johnson – who ran for 1,200 yards – and standout defensive back/quarterback Cody Acree.

The Storm has just four returning letterwinners, giving the Vandals a huge edge in experience, but a distinct disadvantage in pre-game preparation.

‘We saw a preview on them in the Springfield paper, and we scouted them last year before our playoff game,’ Stout said. ‘We saw what they did last year – basically an I-team with a 4-3 defense. But I think they lost 17-18 seniors, so (what they’ll do) is mostly unknown.’

Stout and his staff is erring on the side of caution, banking that the Storm’s recent track record indicates they’ll be tough despite the massive turnover factor.

‘They’ve had a good tradition,’ Stout said. ‘They’ve been to the playoffs four straight years, so when they’ve graduated people, they’ve proven they can have guys step in and fill roles.

‘They lost some people, but we know they’ll come ready to play.’

One thing Stout is relatively sure the Storm will do is run the ball – a lot.

‘They ran a fullback trap pretty good last year, and that’s something we haven’t seen a lot of, so we’ve been preparing for that in practice’ Stout said. ‘We’re basically expecting them to run ball between tackles and power us.’

The Storm will be hard-pressed to find a runner as effective as Johnson, however.

‘Without him, we win maybe three games (last year),’ Lee told the Decatur Herald & Review.

Despite the unknown factor, Stout is more worried about making sure the Vandals don’t beat themselves in their first game.

‘That first game, three things always occur – turnovers, missed tackles and penalties,’ Stout said, sighting the Vandals’ 2006 season-opening loss against Carlyle as a prime example. ‘Those things have always cropped up in Week 1 in the past.

‘It’s just a different environment than practice, so we’ve been doing a lot of timing stuff with the offense and defense to makes sure we don’t have false starts or jump off sides.’

The Vandals added Sangamon Valley to their schedule in a one-and-done deal after letting Carlyle out of its longtime contract with the Vandals a year early.

Vandalia will play an conference-only schedule starting next year in the soon-to-be realinged South Central Conference, as will the Storm when it joins the Sangamo Conference.

‘After we found out we were dropping Carlyle, we added Sangamon Valley the next day, so it worked out for us,’ Stout said.

Note: For a full Vandalia football season preview, see the annual fall sports preview included in this week’s edition of The Leader-Union.

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