Sluder, Douglas forge connection for Tuscola in passing game

Sluder, Douglas forge connection for Tuscola in passing game

TUSCOLA — Luke Sluder doesn't hurl the football to Dalton Hoel anymore.

One could forgive Tuscola's senior quarterback for feeling like he does.

During the 2017 season, which the Warriors concluded by placing second among Class 1A programs, Sluder connected with his 5-foot-6, 145-pound target 53 times for an area-best 1,083 yards and 18 touchdowns.

One year later, Sluder's favorite receiver is 5-6 and ... 140 pounds.

"I knew kind of coming into this year we'd be missing a huge spot on our team, because Dalton was a huge playmaker," said junior Brandon Douglas, the new 5-6 pass-catching threat. "I thought I would put out to the best of my ability, just try to fill the role the best I could."

The bond has been strong between Sluder and Douglas this season.

The pair has combined for 44 completions, 875 yards and 10 scores heading into third-seeded Tuscola's Class 2A state quarterfinal tilt at 1 p.m. Saturday at second-seeded Maroa-Forsyth.

It proved important as the Warriors (10-1) knocked off Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin in last weekend's second round. Sluder found Douglas four times for 106 yards, including touchdown tosses of 50 and 7 yards.

Results like that are a far cry from where the Sluder-Douglas tandem sat this time 365 days ago.

"Last year, I honestly didn't pass to Brandon that much," said Sluder, who hit Douglas five times for 85 yards across 14 games. "This year, during 7-on-7s and practices in the summer, me and B Doug, we started connecting, and it's really shown throughout the weeks."

Douglas' 7-yard reception that resulted in a touchdown last Saturday drew "catch of the year" praise from two of his school's Twitter accounts.

Sluder rolled out to his right and chucked a low throw toward the nearest pylon. Not yet facing his quarterback, Douglas spun and dove, slipping his hands under the ball to extend the Warriors' advantage to 35-14.

"It looked like it was a little underthrown. But then I realized, 'OK, it's carrying a little more,'" Douglas said. "I just kind of turned around and stuck my arms out, and Luke put the ball in the best spot."

Tuscola coach Andy Romine praises Douglas' smarts when the youngster is working between the sidelines. It's a point that often was brought up with Hoel as well.

"Brandon is very intelligent in terms of football angles and understanding break routes," Romine said. "He's getting so much better at that stuff here in the last few weeks."

But Douglas benefits the Warriors through more than hauling in receptions. Though he'll often be one of the shortest guys on the field, Douglas accepts duties similar to those of a college or NFL tight end.

"The one thing I've really been happy with Douglas is his consistency with his role in our run game," Romine said. "Catching screens off our run game, but blocking in our run game particularly. I've been as happy about that as anything."

Tuscola can bet the host Trojans (11-0) won't overlook Douglas on Saturday. Sluder expects as much, anyway.

"Especially these past couple weeks, he's had two or three catches for touchdowns," Sluder said. "People, if they're scouting us, are definitely looking at B Doug to guard."

And what is B Doug's response to this attention?

"I'm just going to do what Coach tells me to do," Douglas said, "and hope that works and gets me open."