VILONIA -— A tip, a slipup and an Alma Airedale attack that had bite on both the ground and in the air spoiled Vilonia’s home opener Friday night.
The Airedales scored a touchdown on a tipped pass, the Eagles squandered almost a sure touchdown attempt and Alma dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball on the way to a 27-13 victory at Centennial Bank Field at Phillip Weaver Stadium.
It was a separation game in the 5A-West Conference race. Alma (4-1, 2-0) moved among the contenders while Vilonia (2-3, 1-1) fell in the middle of the standings.
Leading 7-3, Alma broke the game open on a watershed third-and-15 play on the Vilonia 36 late in the first half. Quarterback Brady Bradley passed over the middle to Alex Elam. The ball, which initially appeared to be prime for an interception, was tipped among four players and Elam grabbed the deflection in midair at the Vilonia 14 and trotted into the end zone to give Alma a 13-3 lead with 1:02 left in the half.
"Every game this season except the first one, the other team has scored a touchdown on a tipped pass," Vilonia coach Jim Stanley said.
Alma drove 61 yards to a 2-yard run by Gage Battles on its first possession of the second half to take a 20-3 lead.
The Eagles mounted a rally behind the running of James Sax, driving to second and goal inches away from the end zone. Then, they were flagged for illegal substitution for having 12 men in the huddle.
Sax and Houston Cotton were stuffed for no gain on two straight plays, then Sax was stopped 2 yards short on fourth down.
The Airedales added a fourth-quarter touchdown on a 22-yard run by Nate Whitson.
The Eagles, who had field goals of 26 and 37 yards by James Gardner, scored with 3:37 sweep on a 25-yard touchdown run by Michael Atkinson.
"Just too many mistakes, again," Stanley said. "We had several sophomores in, and we’d miss a block and make a play that put us in long-yardage situations. The kids are playing hard and I’m proud of them for that, but when you make mistakes against a good team, you are going to pay."
The Airedales stunned the Eagles on their first possession with an 80-yard touchdown drive with a mixture of sideline passes and sweeps. They caught the Eagles sleeping when Ethan Brewer slipped out of the backfield uncovered and was 20 yards behind the Vilonia defense in catching a 54-yard touchdown pass from Bradley, who completed 15 of 20 passes for 207 yards. The Airedales rushed for 158 yards. Vilonia had 151 total yards.
Vilonia, which opened the season with four straight road games, stays at home next week against Siloam Springs.