Tuscola kicked off the 2021 football team with a short road trip south for the 107th edition of the Cola Wars. The Warriors walked away with a solid 20-7 win over the state’s fifth-ranked 1A Purple Riders of Arcola.
One win separated the two historic programs at the end of the 2016 season. The Warriors widened the gap since that time with Tuscola owning an eight win advantage 738 to 730 entering this season per prep historians Tom Sikorski and Ken Varney. Coach Andy Romine’s squad put another wedge in between with the victory giving Tuscola its 739th win in program history keeping its status quo as the third winningest team in state history.
Arcola won the toss and chose to give Tuscola the ball, that decision may have been a mistake. The Warriors ate up most of the first quarter with a nine-minute and 12 second 17-play quarter killing drive following the opening kickoff. Senior quarterback Peyton Armstrong was one for two through the air on the drive and the boys in black pounded the ball the other 15 times culminating in a four-yard scoring scamper by the QB up the middle.
Hunter Branca grabbed the one ball out of the air on the drive, catching a 12-yard out moving the ball to the six. The junior had four catches for 37 yards. The heir apparent to Aiden Beachy, younger brother Keller Beachy split the uprights on the point after making it 7-0 Warriors. He was good on two of three attempts on the night and made a big score saving tackle on kickoff later in the contest.
“That’s one of the longest opening drives I’ve ever experienced,” stated coach Romine. “There is good news, we ran off 17 plays without a penalty or turnover and in high school football that’s excellent. And, we didn’t execute all that great, but the boys effort was off the charts, leaving room for improvement.”
Tuscola forced a quick three and out and struck a little faster on the second drive of the season. This time it took just one snap as Armstrong ripped off an 80-yard touchdown run on the left side following lead blocks by classmates Caden Baer and Patrick Pierce pushing the lead to 13-0. Armstrong reeled off 139 yards on the ground on 13 carries before the first quarter ended on his way to 186 yards on the ground. He also connected on six of 12 through the air for 64 yards with two interceptions. Pierce took the ball back on the very next play after one of the int’s in the third frame picking off a Rider ball from his middle linebacker position and returning it 22 yards to Arcola’s 12-yard line.
Armstrong followed the o-line one more time on the first play after the turnover pushing the lead to 20-0 Warriors. Arcola shook off the goose egg with a 95-yard tipped pass touchdown reception with just over four minutes left in the game making it 20-7 boys in black and that’s where it would stay.
The Warriors limited the Riders high powered running attack to just 50 yards on 22 carries. Leading the way on the tackle chart was Pierce checking in with five solos, three assists, a sack and an interception to his credit. Next up was Ben Hornaday who scratched and clawed his way to two solos, four assists, and two sacks. Tyson Macaulay and Jordan Quinn tallied six stops as well while Caden Baer ended the night with five.
Tuscola travels a little further south for a 1:00 Saturday afternoon game at Cumberland. “The Cola War win is a big one,” stated the coach. “But we have another one to get ready for. Cumberland is ranked in the top eight and return 18 or 20 of their 22 starters.”