The 'Gauntlet' no match for these Warriors

The 'Gauntlet' no match for these Warriors

TUSCOLA — The Central Illinois Conference title is as up for grabs as in any year since the league's inaugural season in 2014, when eight teams broke away from the now-defunct Okaw Valley Conference.

Tuscola claimed the CIC crown last fall and reached the Class 1A state quarterfinals, but Warrensburg-Latham, Shelbyville and Decatur St. Teresa all put together postseason runs just as long. The Bulldogs had the longest — finishing as the Class 1A runners-up, losing to Forreston in the state title game.

Add in a Central A&M team having its best start in five seasons and the top of the CIC is chock full of teams with legitimate conference title aspirations. Which makes the heart of Tuscola's schedule this season interesting to say the least — all of its title competitors in a four-week block.

The Warriors, though, have responded to that challenge. In fact, mark them down as halfway through. A 50-0 homecoming victory against Central A&M on Friday night at Memorial Field kept Tuscola unbeaten at 5-0 with victories against the Raiders and Rams.

"Through this middle part of the year, we've dubbed it 'The Gauntlet,' " Tuscola coach Andy Romine said. "It's good to get through these first couple, and now you're on the back end of that stretch. ... What feels good is we're sitting here five weeks into this thing, and every goal we've had since the beginning of the year — which quite frankly are unspoken, we don't talk about them much — but all those goals are still in place."

Tuscola made quick work of the second game of "The Gauntlet" thanks to standout defense and special teams play. Two blocked punts and a fumble recovery led to short fields and quick touchdowns in the first quarter, and that continued through the 44-point first half.

"I can guarantee you if you look at our first-half statistics, when you look at the point total versus the yardage total it's not going to make any sense," Romine said.

The next phase of "The Gauntlet" is a Week 6 home game against Warrensburg-Latham.

"I think it's nice having a couple of the really big games early," Tuscola lineman Hunter Woodard said. "We're able to see where we're at as a team and fix mistakes. We have a couple big games coming up the next two weeks, so it's exciting to go in and see what we can do."