ARCOLA — Sure, when the football players from Tuscola and Arcola step on a field opposite one another, there’s no love lost.
But less than 24 hours removed from an instant-classic version of the Cola Wars — a 45-42 road victory for the Warriors on Friday night — neither team could find a negative word to say about the other.
“That was a game full of winners on both sides of the ball,” Purple Riders coach Nick Lindsey said. “Nobody wanted to back down. Nobody wanted to give up, and it kind of just came down to who could throw the last punch.”
That turned out to be Tuscola (2-0), though it’s hard to say exactly which play put Arcola (1-1) down to stay.
Another edition of the Cola Wars embodied what the rivalry series is all about.
Was it Warriors quarterback Logan Tabeling hitting Jalen Quinn with a short pass down the Riders’ sideline, only for Quinn to break multiple tackles and surge 72 yards into the end zone for a 10-point Tuscola lead with about seven minutes to play?
Was it Quinn intercepting Arcola junior quarterback Beau Jones over the middle with about two minutes on the clock?
Or was it the Warriors’ Jacob Kibler, as the contest’s final seconds expired, swatting a Jones desperation heave out of the air?
That all of these could be the answer indicates just how many big plays happened Friday night — over the course of roughly three hours in front of an overflow crowd that rarely stayed quiet.
“It was pretty crazy throughout the whole entire game,” said Tabeling, who threw for 371 yards and two scores on top of rushing 22 times for 94 yards. “This year’s was 10 times better than last year’s game (a 34-0 Tuscola win). ... Whenever you’re in a close game like that, the team just kind of builds a special bond.”
Athletes on both sidelines needed to come together over the course of Friday’s game, which was filled with momentum-changing twists and turns.
The first came when Lucas Kresin scooped up an Austin Hopkins fumble and returned it 20 yards to put the Warriors ahead 10-0 in the first quarter.
Arcola replied with Jones hitting Ivan Franco and Diego Perez on touchdown tosses of 72 and 70 yards, respectively. Before the night was out, Jones again would connect with Perez on a 72-yard scoring hurl while Perez would return a punt 72 yards to the house.
“They’re outstanding playmakers,” Lindsey said. “They’re so explosive, great ball skills, just kids that we’ve got to find opportunities and ways to get the ball to in space.”
Lindsey added that Jones “grew up a lot” over the evening and is “really developing into a good quarterback.”
Tuscola just had a little more in the tank, though, evidenced by the Warriors forcing three turnovers and recovering one of their own fourth-quarter punts.
“(Arcola) had four pass plays of 70-plus yards ... and that’s obviously got to be corrected,” Tuscola coach Andy Romine said. “Our defensive backs have already been sitting in a film meeting (Saturday) morning. Our kids are winners, and they’re going to get it fixed.”
In addition to Tabeling, running back Grant Hardwick got a chance to shine with two rushing touchdowns and a touchdown reception.
“Grant’s something else. He’s an animal,” Tabeling said. “We have the chance to give him the ball. We’re going to give it to him.”
Recovery is now the name of the game for both sides, entering just Week 3 of the regular season. Even if memories from Cola Wars 2019 still reign supreme.
“Years down the road,” Lindsey said, “the kids that were involved are going to remember that one.”