The 2019 meeting on the gridiron this past Friday between Tuscola and Arcola was an instant classic and the second highest offensive outburst in the history of the Cola Wars.
Tuscola came away with the road victory, edging the Riders by a mere three points in a shootout 45-42. The 87 points scored between the two teams tied with the outcome in 1996 falling one point shy of the 88 points that lit up the scoreboard in 1997.
Long lines prior to game time and fans lined up five deep around the fence gave the heated rivalry game a playoff atmosphere that Warriors head football coach Andy Romine soaked in the entire game.
“This is what high school football is all about,” stated the coach. “Two great programs with great fan bases slugging it out. It was like a heavy weight title fight.”
Tuscola threw the first punch following forced punts by both squads scoring on a 24-yard field goal by junior kicker Aiden Beachy at the 4:44 mark of the first quarter. The Warriors followed it up with a defensive scoop and score by Lucas Kresin less than 40 ticks of the clock later on a forced fumble by Gibson Wells to go in front 10-0. Two plays later it was the Riders’ turn to light off some fireworks cutting the gap to three on a 73-yard scoring strike making it 10-7 boys in black.
Defensively, Wells led the way with seven stops. Kresin was next up with six stops followed by Josh Dyer with four tackles. The Pierce brothers, Jonah and Patrick, each corralled four ball carriers while Jones put a halt to three.
“We went into the game thinking we needed to slow down their run game, forcing them to pass and we did just that,” commented Romine. “We missed some tackles on big pass plays but their QB had a big night keeping them in the game.”
The Warriors followed with a deep drive into Riders’ territory but came up short on a fourth down attempt turning the ball over on downs. Back came the home team scoring on the third play on another long pass giving the purple and white its first lead of the night 14-10. Grant Hardwick scampered in from 19 yards out, handing the lead back to Romine and his crew to put Tuscola on top 17-14 with just over nine minutes left in the half. Arcola’s second lead came a few plays later after a 10-yard Rider pass found the promise land pushing them back on top 21-17 with six minutes left in the half.
Hardwick found the end zone again a few minutes later, punching a minute before the second quarter horn to make it 24-21 Warriors at the break. The state-ranked teams traded jabs before Hardwick landed his third blow of the night, pushing Tuscola’s lead to double-digits, 31-21, on a short run over the left side. Ashton Jones did the dirty work for Romine early in the fourth plunging one in from 3 yards out increasing the advantage to 17 points, 38-21, with six seconds gone in the final period.
Hardwick ended the night with 67 yards and two touchdowns and also snatched two Logan Tabeling passes out of the air for 13 yards and a score. Tabeling led all on the ground gaining 94 yards on 22 tries. He connected on 22 of 40 tosses for 371 yards and a pair of scores. His favorite target was Brandon Douglas who grabbed 10 passes for 188 yards. Quinn was next up with six catches for 111 yards and a score. Jake Kibler and Kresin each caught two passes combing for just more than 60 yards.
The Warriors recovered the ensuing kick off and looked like might just put it away, but a Rider interception and a QB keeper around left end a minute later cut the lead back to ten 38-28 Warriors. Arcola had one more answer pulling to within three of the lead 38-35 on a 70-yard punt. Romine’s boys fired another haymaker at Arcola on their next possession pushing on a 72-yard pass from Logan Tabeling to Jalen Quinn pushing it back to double digits once more 45-35 Tuscola.
And like a broken record the Riders answered right back with a score of their own making it 45-42. That’s where it would stay as the Quinn thwarted the Riders next drive picking off his second pass of the evening allowing the Warriors to run off all by 13 seconds, which expired one play later bringing an end to a game that provided more than 900 yards of total offense.