Ex-coach cheers Rockets on to tense win
TOLONO — Before there was Oscar Hicks Field, there was Oscar Hicks.
The longest-tenured Unity High School football coach — until Scott Hamilton arrived on the scene 20 years ago — Hicks returned to his stomping grounds Friday, more than 35 years after he last coached the Rockets.
He still knew what to expect.
“Tuscola had more wins against us than any other team we played,” Hicks said, recalling his 19-year career on the sidelines.
Friday night, Hicks got to see a Unity win at Hicks Field.
“There’s still a few bugs,” he said, “but I think they’re coming.”
Unity rallied from a 14-7 deficit after one quarter to edge the Warriors 35-26 in a nonconference game. Tuscola had the ball at the Unity 7-yard line for the game’s final play, but the last of 10 sacks by the Rockets prevented another Tuscola score.
“The storyline,” Hamilton said, “was how hard their kids played. We were fortunate enough to make enough plays.
“I told people all week this wouldn’t be what they thought.”
The 2-0 Rockets are ranked first in Class 3A. Class 1A Tuscola falls to 1-1.
Unity’s Conner Grace rushed for 239 yards, eclipsing 100 yards in each half.
“Conner is one of our guys who plays both ways. He was running on fumes at the end but found a way to pick up big yards,” Hamilton said. “Conner showed his toughness. He and (Justin) Deters are a pretty good 1-2 punch and our offensive line made some big plays.”
Tuscola’s Nick Bates kept the Warriors in contention, passing for 253 yards.
“There was a reason we brought him up last year as a freshman,” Tuscola coach Rick Reinhart said. “People are starting to realize he’s one of the best sophomore quarterbacks around.”
Tuscola’s Zach Bates returned an interception 61 yards to get the Warriors on the board first.
Unity scored all three second-quarter TDs, one by Grace. Quarterback Deters passed for one and threw for another.
The pivotal points came in the third period when Deters hooked up with sure-handed tight end Hiley Freeman for the second week in a row.
Unity’s defense — counting the behind-the-line stops — held Tuscola to 9 total rushing yards.
Hamilton was pleased to have Hicks speak to his team.
“It’s an honor for the kids to understand the tradition of Unity football, not just the past few years, but all the way back to the unbeaten six-man teams,” Hamilton said. “It was great to have him out here. Our kids were excited to see him.”
Deters passed for 117 yards and rushed for 95.
Before Hicks, 86, returns to Arizona later today, he hopes to see another win. He has tickets to the Illini game. His heart, however, remains in Tolono.
“I was in the district 35 years, 29 at the high school,” he said. “This is home to me. I keep up with everything that’s going on.”
Okaw Valley Black
TEAM CONF. OVERALL
Monticello 0 0 2 0
Unity 0 0 2 0
Clinton 0 0 1 1
St. Teresa 0 0 1 1
Shelbyville 0 0 0 2
Sullivan/Okaw Valley 0 0 0 2
NEXT FRIDAY’S GAMES
Clinton at Tuscola
St. Teresa at Central A&M
Monticello at Warrensburg-Latham
Shelbyville at Argenta-Oreana
Sullivan/Okaw Valley at Maroa-Forsyth
Unity at Meridian