BLUFFTON – Two starts into his season, quarterback James Arnold has shown he's back from the torn ACL he suffered playing basketball in February. Three games into their season, his South Adams Starfires have showed that their No. 1 Class A ranking in the state coaches' poll is deserved.
Arnold took advantage of superb blocking and completed 10 of 14 passes for 283 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions – all in the first half – and the Starfires defeated the Bluffton Tigers 41-0.
Asked if he had been worried that post-knee surgery football life would be difficult, Arnold said: “I don't get really nervous in my abilities. ... And any (nervousness) was mainly in the summer. I worked really hard in the summer and saw a lot of progress, but I'm not very nervous now.”
Regardless, with every down, the Starfires' coaches rest a little easier.
“He made some great throws but the best thing tonight was (Arnold) taking some of those hits,” South Adams coach Grant Moser said. “He got tackled a few times, and ran some option for us, and seeing him get up from that was the best thing going forward. 'Hey, you can play.' In the back of his mind, he's not worried about it. 'Hey, you're good to go.'”
Arnold, who missed the opening game of the season as he finished rehabilitating from his injury, has now completed 18 of 30 passes for 477 yards with nine touchdowns and one interception this season. South Adams (3-0) has outscored its opponents, who include Winchester and Bellmont, 137-21.
“The defense has been awesome,” Moser said. “The (first-teamers) haven't given up any points this season. We've given up 21 points and two touchdowns were on the (second stringers) and the other was a pick-six, so our ones D is pitching a shutout this year and we're really excited with how it's playing.”
Though Adams Central may have something to say about it – the Flying Jets are 3-0 – this could be the Starfires' year to ascend to the ACAC championship. (South Adams plays at third-ranked Adams Central on Sept. 27.)
Aidan Wanner had four catches for 165 yards and three touchdowns. Nic Stuber rushed for 78 yards and a touchdown.
And the offensive line of Carter Lewis, Grady Sprunger, Sam Plattner, Braden Baumer and Caleb Augsburger was praised by Moser and Arnold.
“You saw the point total and know how good we played. It goes to show you how good my (offensive) line and my receivers are,” Arnold said. “I had all night to throw and you could see me going through my second and third progressions, getting the ball to my guys. And my receivers are awesome; if I get the ball in their hands then they make plays and go score. That game, it's on the rest of my guys.”
The game may have been decided on the first five plays, during which Arnold completed a 69-yard touchdown pass to Wanner; Dominic Kahn recovered a fumbled kick return; and Arnold threw a high, arcing, 42-yard touchdown pass to Drew Stutzman.
After Stuber scored on a 5-yard run, Arnold threw touchdown passes of 62 and 26 yards to Wanner and one from 49 yards to Nick Miller.
“We have a really great group of receivers,” Arnold said. “We spend a lot of time together in the summer. That (depth) is kind of the great thing.”
For Bluffton (2-1), Hayden Nern, completed 11 of 23 passes for 102 yards with an interception before he was injured in the second quarter.
Kain Thornton had five catches for 50 yards.