BLUFFTON – Don’t let that big black brace on his right leg fool you, South Adams junior quarterback James Arnold is showing no ill effects from the ACL tear he suffered last basketball season.
Friday night was Arnold’s first big physical test on the gridiron this season and he passed with flying colors so vibrant they should create a letter grade better than an ‘A.’ Arnold’s final numbers in the 41-0 win over Bluffton were big: 10-of-14 passing, 283 yards and five touchdowns. It propelled the Starfires to start their Allen County Athletic Conference play perfect as well.
But the impact of Arnold starting his season so strong isn’t something to get lost in South Adams’ strong start as a team. Starfire coach Grant Moser had no qualms in the pregame mentioning the test that Arnold would get from a physical Bluffton team. His knee and body were going to take some wear and Moser was interested in how Arnold would handle the physicality after a long rehab that even saw him sit out Week 1 of the season, just in case.
“The best thing I liked about him was taking the hits, because he has been worried about taking the hits,” Moser said. “To take the hits that he did, run some option and take some tackles and get back up every time, I couldn’t be happier with the way he performed tonight.”
“You kind of realize I can get hit and I can get up,” Arnold added. “I’ve been feeling good so that’s a big confidence booster there.”
Arnold and the Starfires took little to no time to open up a lead that was never contested. On the second play from scrimmage, Arnold threw a 69-yard bomb downfield for Aidan Wanner’s first touchdown of the night. After recovering a fumble, the Starfires increased their lead seven seconds later when Arnold’s pass to Drew Stutzman scored on a 42-yard play. Just 42 seconds into the game, South Adams led 13-0.
Nic Stuber, who finished with 76 yards rushing, punched in the third South Adams touchdown and its only rushing score towards the end of the first quarter. Yet the lead kept increasing when Wanner and Arnold hooked up again with 1:17 left, this time for a 62-yard score, leading to a 27-0 lead at the first quarter break.
It was early in the second quarter when Arnold added his fourth touchdown when Bluffton came at him with heavy pressure. Arnold scrambled out, rolling to his left and found Nick Miller, who ripped the pass away from a defender’s hand to complete a 49-yard score.
“My receivers are amazing. I can get them the ball and they can go make plays, take it to the house. We are together in the summer all of the time working,” Arnold said. “My line gave me tons of time. You can see me going through my second and third progressions on some plays.”
Midway through the second, Miller’s punt pinned Bluffton at their own 2-yard line, setting up eventual good field position for a fifth and final Arnold touchdown pass, this time from 26 yards away to Wanner, who snuck his toes down in the back of the end zone.
As the teams headed for the halftime break with the score 41-0, Arnold’s night ended, leaving him primed for another chance to air it out against Heritage in Week 4.
“The O-line gave him great time and he’s got a lot of targets,” Moser said. “It is really hard for a small school to be able to defend four guys like Nick Miller, Aidan Wanner, Braden Bixler and Drew Stutzman. James does a great job of playing point guard and kind of distributing the ball to those guys.”
The second half, complete with mercy rule running clock, went by quickly as the Starfires wrapped up their third win on the year.
“We have a lot of people telling these guys how good they are and want to steer away from that. We like the confidence but not the cockiness that can with it,” Moser said. “We have to keep our guys grounded because this group hasn’t won anything.”
Arnold, who has played less than a full game’s worth of quarters this season, has now thrown for 480 yards on 18-of-30 passing with nine touchdowns to just one interception. It could go without saying that his bounce back from a torn ACL is going just fine.
“We had some people talking about it should be Aidan Wanner [playing quarterback] after that Week 1, he was 8-for-8, Moser said. “We said ‘Hey James is the guy, we’ll show you.’ And it paid off right here, James had an incredible night.”