By Lenny Sementi
The Warriors line backing crew turned in a big night fueling a 50-27 win over the Clinton Maroons this past Friday night on homecoming giving new meaning to the term March Madness. Head coach Andy Romine and long time linebacker coach Pat Pierce’s trio showed up to play. Senior backers Grant Hardwick and Tyler Walker each forced a pair of turnovers and Pierce’s son Patrick led the charge on the tackle chart tallying a career best 15 stops, with 13 solos, including two sacks and two assists.
The defense stopped the visiting Maroons on fourth and short on their first drive giving the ball to the offense on the 20-yard line going in but a penalty, a loss of yardage followed by an interception all led to no points. Another short field following a punt came up empty again for Tuscola on their next drive after another penalty. Enter Hardwick who stripped the ball from Clinton’s QB on third down and took 39 yards to pay dirt. Aiden Beachy followed with an extra point and a 30-point Warrior outburst was started.
A sack by Pierce forced a third and long for the Maroons on their next drive and Walker went to work with interceptions on back to back drives. The Warriors’ stinger picked off a batted ball by Hunter Branca and returned 26 yards deep into Clinton territory. Four players later Payton Armstrong trotted in from 18 yards out pushing it to 13-0 with just over nine minutes left in the second frame. Walker followed it up with another pick on the ensuing drive, returned 24 yards to the one and Hardwick punched it in making 20-0 Tuscola.
Hardwick stripped another ball three plays later as the Warrior defense turned over the Maroons on four consecutive possessions. This time Armstrong found Nate Koester in the southwest corner for a 20-yard touchdown pass increasing the advantage to 27-0 Warriors. A 20-yard punt return by Branca following a big block by Eric Badget set up a 40-yard field goal by Beachy capped a 30-point scoring run by the black and gold all inside of eight minutes of action.
Clinton broke through with 57 ticks left on the clock after converting twice on fourth down penalties by the Warriors narrowing the lead to 30-7. Coach Connor Plotner’s kickoff return crew responded quickly with some big blocks up front and an 86-yard scoring jaunt by Koester giving the Warriors a 37-7 advantage heading into the break.
Caden Baer returned the opening kick of the third quarter out to the 45 and on the first play from scrimmage Hardwick followed the big boys up front Hans Goodman, Chase Jones, Haven Hatfield, Chris Boyd and Grant Kauffman to the end zone on a 55-yard scoring run pushing it to 43-7 just 20 seconds into the frame. Neither team found the end zone the rest of a penalty ridden third but Clinton scored twice in the fourth to close the gap making it 43-20. Tuscola followed with an Armstrong scoring run from 18 yards out with a minute left in the game to put up a half century on the Warriors side of the scoreboard.
“We put up 29 first downs last week, but couldn’t really get into a groove on offense early in the game,” stated Romine. “We got a defensive score, a special teams score and never started a drive in our territory in the first half. Which is great, that however is not going to happen very often. Negative plays due to execution mistakes and penalties hurt us offensively and we need to clean that up.”
Armstrong led the way in the ground game with 108 yards on 18 carries and was good on four of 12 passing throwing two TDs and two Int’s. Take away his sacks and he gained 138 yards averaging just under eight yards an attempt. Hardwick was next up with 79 yards on ten attempts and Branca gained 14 yards on one try. Defensively after Pierce was Chris Boyd checking with six solos and nine stops total. Baer, Hatfield and Goodman all accounted for six tackles in the game and James Boyd intercepted a ball in the fourth for the Warriors fifth forced turnover of the game.