CHAMPAIGN — There weren't any tears, head hanging or looks of self-pity.
Tuscola had just dropped the Class 1A state title game 41-27 to Dakota on Friday at Memorial Stadium, but seniors Philip Meyer, Jordan Scribner and T.J. Onstott, led by coach Rick Reinhart, entered the postgame interview session with their chins up and a sense of pride about themselves.
"It (stinks), but there's a lot of good football we played our four years," said Onstott, who recorded 17 tackles Friday to become the Warriors' career leader in that category. "We got a ring, we made it (to the finals) three consecutive years. I don't know if there's a Tuscola team that's done that. They were just a better team, that's it."
For a half, it looked like Tuscola was the better team. The Warriors (11-3) led 14-0 on an Austin Sexson 16-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and a 53-yard touchdown pass from Meyer to Jimmy Knight (four receptions, 90 yards) in the second.
To that point, the Warriors dominated Dakota, outgaining the Indians 213-11 in the first 15 minutes. Then, Jake Apple and that beefy Dakota offensive line went to work. Apple raced 74 yards for a touchdown on the Indians' next play from scrimmage, and he was just getting started.
Behind an offensive line that averages 255 pounds — Tuscola's defensive linemen weigh 187 pounds on average — Apple ran for 373 yards on 31 carries as the Indians scored 28 unanswered points.
"The Apple kid is what we knew he was gonna be: a great running back," Reinhart said. "Once they got momentum and we got so many people in the box and they break somebody through, it just takes one gap and he's a great player, he's off to the races."
Apple's 373 yards are a state championship-game record across all eight classes. The previous 1A record was 239 yards, set by Carthage's Kenton Patrick in 1995 against Arcola. Maine South's Matt Perez, who plays at Indiana, had the record for all classes when he ran for 316 in the 8A title game in 2009 against Marist. Apple's four touchdowns tied the 1A record for a championship game.
"We practice with Jake every day, and we know what he can do. He's really good," Dakota quarterback Drew Geiseman said.
The Warriors cut the lead to 28-21 when Meyer (14 of 30, 222 yards, two TDs passing; 21 carries, 52 yards rushing) scored on a 5-yard run with nine minutes to go. But Geiseman ran for a 32-yard touchdown and completed a 15-yard TD pass to Lance McCauley to thwart the Tuscola comeback effort.
"Our kids fought to the bitter end, and that's exactly how they've done it in the four years I've been at Tuscola," Reinhart said.
Tuscola entered the halftime locker room with a 14-6 lead but couldn't help but wonder what could have been if not for a couple of missed opportunities. The Warriors missed a 32-yard field goal wide right in the second quarter and also had a would-be touchdown pass dropped in the end zone.
"I felt like we were better prepared this year," said Reinhart, whose team lost to Lena-Winslow 47-14 in last year's title game. "This year we were in better shape, better positioned; we just got ran over a couple of times. It came down to we knew we were going to have to cash it in every time, and the missed field goal was big. We dropped a (touchdown). In the third quarter, they just did a nice job, and all of a sudden our speed wasn't quite getting us to the outside."
Scribner, who had four tackles and an interception, caught four passes for 77 yards, including a 12-yard touchdown pass from Meyer.