Warriors football intent on playing sharper


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TUSCOLA — Replacement is a requirement in high school athletics. Teams only have the luxury of four years — at best — with specific kids.

Tuscola football often succeeds in this venture, most recently evidenced by a 2-0 start following a trip to the Class 1A state final last year.

Things haven't been perfect for coach Andy Romine's latest crop of Warriors, though. Even if a points differential of 91-0 suggests otherwise.

Take last Friday's 34-0 victory over visiting Arcola. Tuscola was halted inside the Purple Riders' 10-yard line during three separate drives, garnering just six points from those efforts.

"We didn't capitalize on a couple occasions," senior quarterback Luke Sluder said. "Dalton (Hoel) from last year was my main go-to guy (receiving), and we're all still trying to find another guy to go to."

Graduations of Hoel, Andrew Erickson and Noah Pierce sapped the Warriors of 1,559 yards and 20 scores through the air, as well as 1,457 yards and 37 touchdowns on the ground.

Tuscola's running game has recovered, with a quartet of Warriors sprinting for nine touchdowns through two contests.

On the throwing side, work remains. Sluder has connected with junior Brandon Douglas and sophomore Grant Hardwick for Tuscola's only aerial plunges into the end zone.

"We've got to be more consistent down the field vertically, and we've got to catch the ball underneath-wise," Romine said. "We dropped some balls (Friday) that should be, all day long, second down and 4, second down and 3, and we're second and 10."

Considering the bevy of Warrior tallies so far, however, positives clearly exist.

Douglas and Hardwick are joined by seniors Haden Cothron and Cade Kresin as viable pass-catchers, while senior Will Little and junior Brandon Cantu handle carries along with Sluder.

Little missed last Friday's win with a bum ankle, but Cantu made up for the loss by powering through the Arcola defense for a 49-yard touchdown.

"He is kind of like Andrew (Erickson). Faster, though," Sluder said. "He's a beast, really strong."

Tuscola will need all of these offensive weapons available for this Friday's Central Illinois Conference showdown with Central A&M, which Romine deemed "the trap game of the year."

And the Warriors must bring their long-cultivated mentality to the event.

"Our kids are workers, and they're winners," Romine said, "and they're going to do what it takes to correct mistakes."

Prep Sports Coordinator

Colin Likas is prep sports coordinator at The News-Gazette. His email is clikas@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@clikasNG).