Tuscola’s football team was thrown curveball after curveball and never blinked but what all the adversity did was bring up a whole lot of ‘what ifs’ and a season ending a few weeks too short. The Warriors missed the playoffs for the first time since 2012 finishing the year with a 4-3 record overall, falling short of the five wins needed to advance to the postseason. And led in the fourth quarter in all three of their losses.
The senior led group played one of the most daunting schedules in the state with all seven opponents owning a winning record at the end of the season and all playoff eligible. Not to mention four ranked opponents, two of which they knocked off and won in Central A&M that is playing in the state semifinals this weekend. It’s a senior group that only got to play six games as juniors due to COVID shortened seasons and seven this year due to a COVID shut down at the school in weeks six and seven. Yep they’ve been through a lot and there are as coach Andy Romine’s end of the year speech at the sports banquet highlighted more than a few what if’s.
Their second game of the year was moved from Friday to Saturday afternoon. Sullivan cancelled in week three and the Warriors picked up a top four team out of Indiana in Parke Heritage with a 3500-yard passer and the now state record-holding wide receiver ended in a thrilling loss. A penalty ridden first half at Shelbyville proved too much to overcome. And, after shutting down A&M for a homecoming win, one of the top four teams in Class 1A they weren’t able to play a one win Clinton squad to almost certainly result in a win and a play off berth for the black and gold.
Lost a few players to injury including starting TE, backup QB and outside linebacker Jordan Quinn. Oh, and the IHSA rearranged some things that ended up eliminating any hopes of four win teams with a lot of playoff points making it to the playoffs.
“I’ve never been prouder of a group of players, they dealt with all kinds of things that really had nothing to do with football and played through it,” stated Romine. “It tore my heart out, we dropped a couple early games that we could have won but felt really good heading into the second half of the season before the shut down derailed our momentum. Even then we felt good about our playoff points, the most in the state with four wins but it was not meant to be, just a lot of what if, what if we score once more in one of our losses or get one more stop, what if we play Sullivan, and they go on and on, we could have taken a forfeit but playing the game was the right thing to do, our guys already missed to many games and deserved to play. Our guys handled it all like adults and accepted responsibility.”
On offense Peyton Armstrong the teams MVP put on a show the senior signal caller was the leading ground gainer in the area through five weeks and is still one of the leaders and only played seven games. He toted the rock on average 34 times a game averaging 5.58 yards per carry for 1,333 yards and 18 touchdowns with a long of 80 yards. He also threw for 543 yards and four touchdowns.
“Peyton was outstanding the entire year,” the coach said. “He gave everything he had and then some. He would carry the ball 20 times in the first half and I would ask him if he was tired and the answer was always the same, I do whatever you need me to do.”
Paving the way was his fullback senior Patrick Pierce and his classmates up front on the line Haven Hatfield, Austin Lewis and Chase Jones. Juniors Grant Kauffmann and Chris Boyd were part of the o-line coach Ted Minger’s group also as was sophomore Aiden Weaver. Hatfield won the team’s O-line award and was also a unanimous choice Central Illinois Conference first team honoree. Boyd collected second team All CIC accolades also. Pierce was the second leading rusher on the team gaining 332 yards on 71 attempts averaging just over 4.5 yards a rush. Senior Caden Baer led the way in receptions hauling in 14 while only playing in four games. Junior Hunter Branca was next in line with 11 catches followed by senior Eric Badgett who grabbed seven passes.
Defensively Pierce was a unanimous choice first teamer at linebacker. He took home the Defensive Line Award as well as the Huber Dietrich Tackle award posting 67 stops, including 44 solos. His partners in crime at LB Jordan Sanchez and Tyson Macaulay were the next closest recording 35 tackles and 32 tackles respectively. Up front Boyd, a first team All CIC defensive selection, secured 30 stops and tied with Macaulay for tackles for loss each taking down nine ball carriers behind the line. Ben Nose guard Hornaday secured second team All CIC honors with four sacks and 21 tackles to his credit. Baer, the squad’s Warrior Spirit award winner patrolled the defensive backfield notching 20 tackles and swiped two interceptions earning him first team All CIC honors.
“Our seniors are grinders that put up with a lot and just kept moving forward,” stated Romine. “We will build off their legacy of toughness and move on from here.”