By Lenny Sementi
Caden Baer turned in one of the best performances of his career on the gridiron this past Friday as part of the black and gold as the Warriors blew open a tight game scoring twice in the final three frames upending an athletic Macon Meridian squad 48-13. The junior picked off a Meridian pass in the third quarter and returned a punt to the promised land in the fourth while securing three tackles in the secondary.
“Caden came up big for us tonight,” commented head football coach Andy Romine. “I was a little concerned four minutes into the game, but the guys got it going and Caden turned the field for us twice in the second half.”
Payton Armstrong was right there with him accounting for over 300 yards of total offense from his quarterback position. The junior connected on ten of 13 through the air for 175 yards and two scores, including a 59-yard scoring strike to Nate Koester helping coach Andy Romine’s squad to 356 yards of offense and 18 first downs. He also toted the rock 21 times for 132 yards and two scores.
“Payton honestly is still learning at the QB spot,” the coach said. “But I thought he had his best game tonight, he ran the ball hard for us and came up with a few big passes.”
Koester led all in the receiving department with three grabs for 99 yards and a score. Senior Grant Hardwick secured three as well for 33 yards while Bobby Fancher added two catches for 22 yards to his season stat sheet. Senior James Boyd and sophomore Hunter Branca secured one a piece for a combined 22 yards.
Tuscola took the opening drive deep into Hawk territory but came up short on a fourth and one. Meridian gained a little momentum with the stop, ripped off a 38-yard run on first down and then punched a quick six play drive with a six-yard TD pass and after the point after attempt went wide right posted a 6-0 lead with just under six minutes gone on the clock.
Tuscola answered on their next possession, capping a 70-yard scoring drive with a 34-yard pitch and catch knotting it at six’s. Aiden Beachy followed with the point after giving the Warriors a lead they would never relinquish. The two CIC foes traded punts before Armstrong took one in himself on a 34 scoring scamper up the middle making 14-6 early in the second stanza. Hardwick then did some damage on a three-yard TD run with just 40 seconds left before the half and Beachy split the uprights on the point after putting the Warriors on top by fifteen 21-6. Eric Badgett intercepted a last ditch effort by the Hawks sending the teams to the locker rooms.
A big hit by Patrick Pierce on the Hawks first play of the second half dislodged the ball and Tyler Walker fell on top, setting up Tuscola’s fourth score. A completion to Koester moved it to the eleven-yard line and a few plays later Armstrong scored from one yard out, Beachy converted, pushing it to 28-6 boys in black. Baer jumped a ball in the flats and returned it to the 13 yard line and Armstrong found Boyd in the back of the end zone and just like that it was 35-6. The Hawks ran three plays on their first two drives of the second half and the black shirts turned them over on two of them.
They followed that up with a fourth down stop and another forced fumble and a Walker recovery setting up Armstrong for a five-yard TD run. A big sack by Pierce and Walker deep in the Hawks own territory and pressure by the pair and Badgett on third down forced a Meridian punt. Baer scooped up the line drive at the 29 and took it in untouched pushing it to 48-6 with ten minutes left putting the clock in motion the rest of the way. Meridian added one more late to make it 48-12 ending the scoring.
Walker led all Warriors on the tackle charts with four solos and four assists including a pair of sacks for a total loss of 19 yards and his hustle put him in the right place at the right time for two fumble recoveries. Pierce was next up with seven stops and a sack, Badgett had a sack as well and Baer and Alex Brooks ended their night with three tackles each.
“I need to see the film but I think the guys played really well,” stated Romine. “Football a tough game, its hard sometimes to get all eleven guys to do the right thing at the same time.”