By Lenny Sementi
Four turnovers, timely penalties, big plays and fourth down conversions cost the Warriors in Tuscola’s long awaited football opener which was one day longer due to field conditions. Head coach Andy Romine’s squad was missing a few key pieces this past Saturday in their opener against Central A&M.
It was an uphill battle from the start against the defending state runner up and the fifth ranked team in the state in Class 1A before one more major blow was dealt to the the black and gold less than 4-minutes into the contest. Team leader and senior O-lineman Mike Caledron was forced to leave the game with an injury. The absence of Calderon and others sent five sophomores into early varsity action in a 42-23 loss to the Raiders.
“Not an excuse, they executed but we had some pups out there that grew up in the second half,” stated Romine. “That’s a good football team that might go undefeated. And against those types of teams you can’t turn the ball over.”
Tuscola coughed the ball up on their first play from scrimmage on their own twenty yard line and following a penalty on a Warrior stop led to a Raider score making it 8-0 A&M. Romine’s crew looked to answer but after posting three straight first downs put the ball on the ground once more leading to a quick 14-0 advantage with just over seven minutes gone in the contest. Another long drive came up short on a fourth and one on the home team’s 27-yard line before Tuscola reached the promised land for the first time this season. Junior quarterback Payton Armstrong capped off a 75-yard drive with a five-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wideout Hunter Branca cutting it to 14-7.
A&M responded with a 65-yard TD pass of their own, breaking a few tackles on the way to the end zone bumping it to 21-7 Raiders. Like they did the entire first half Tuscola continued to move the ball setting up a last second 45-yard field goal by senior Aiden Beachey to enter the break down eleven 21-10. More missed tackles after the break led to an A&M score on a third and long and then punched in another following a turnover pushing the lead to 35-10.
A couple Armstrong and Caden Baer rushes and a big tackle by James Boyd set up scoring strikes on consecutive possessions climbing to within 12 points down 35-23 with seven minutes left in the contest. A&M had other plans however and sealed the deal late with a 45-yard touchdown pass on yet another third and long to end the suspense.
Central A&M gained 357 total yards and secured 13 first downs utilizing big plays, while the Warriors controlled the clock pounding out 25 first downs while gaining 355 total yards. Armstrong led the way on the ground with 148 yards on 34 attempts. He turned in a 14 for 22 effort throwing the ball for 148 yards through the air, including three scores. Baer was next up in the run game gaining seven yards a rush posting 49 yards on seven carries while Bobby Fancher rushed for ten on try.
Branca was tops in the receiving department hauling a game-best seven catches for 78 yards. Boyd was next 27 yards on three grabs, followed by Baer with three for 20 yards. Baer was also strong on defense ending the night with six solos and seven tackles total. Next up were Tyler Walker, Patrick Pierce and Haven Hatfield all of which had a tackle for loss on their way to five stops. Hans Goodman, Chris and James Boyd and Audi Patel ended the day with four tackles each.
“We stopped our selves,” Romine commented. “We turned over once on downs and punted just once, you just can’t give good teams extra possessions and we did that four times.”