By Missy Chappell
The weather in Sullivan was cold and raw Friday night as the Tuscola Warriors and Sullivan-Okaw Valley Redskins faced off in each team’s first Central Illinois Conference game. Both teams were 2-0 headed into the Sept. 12, 2014 matchup and both were somewhat untested. The Warriors were entering the game without the leg of Evan Sutton who had been near perfect in extra points and on point with kickoffs so far this season. Sutton, out with an injury, is questionable to return this season.
The game started positively for the Warriors. They had good field position from the opening kickoff, set up on their own 32-yard line. On second-and-8 from the 34, Nick Bates kept the ball and rushed up the middle for a 66-yard touchdown. A two-point conversion pass to Cole Evans put Tuscola up 8-0 just 53 seconds into the game.
Freshman Andrew Erickson handled kickoffs for the Warriors last Friday, stepping into a difficult position under adverse weather conditions and performing as well as could be expected. According to Coach Rick Reinhart, “We found out Wednesday that Evan won’t be kicking for quite some time, so we held tryouts for kickers. We had two freshmen that outperformed everyone else and they got the starting nod for the game. Those kids did the best they could in a rain game.”
SOV started around its own 40 most of the evening, making the challenge even greater for the defense. SOV’s opening drive resulted in a three-and-out.
Tuscola’s next drive ran a fair amount of time off the clock. A big run by Dalton Hoel to give the Warriors a first down was negated by a holding penalty. Two plays later a roughing-the-passer call against SOV brought Tuscola up to midfield. However, another Tuscola penalty, followed by a sack of quarterback Bates, forced Tuscola to punt on fourth-and-20.
SOV’s next possession resulted in a touchdown with 1:50 left in the first quarter. The Warriors managed to stop the two-point conversion, only to get flagged for interference, which SOV answered by getting the two points on a big second effort push across the line to tie the score at 8.
Tuscola earned three first downs on its next drive with a couple of nice catches by Zach Bates and some hard runs by Kaleb Williams and Nick Bates. However, the Warriors were forced to punt on fourth-and-9 from SOV’s 34. Five plays into SOV’s next drive Tuscola forced them to punt on fourth-and-5 from Tuscola’s 49-yard line. A penalty for roughing the kicker gave SOV a second chance to score, but an incomplete pass followed by a big tackle from Nick Bates and another pass broken up by Josh Knight once again forced a Redskins punt.
QB N. Bates rushed for 22 yards in the Warriors’ final scoring drive of the half. He showed additional athleticism when he recovered a snap that went over his head and managed to get off an 18-yard pass to Hoel to put Tuscola within two yards of the end zone. Williams took the next handoff into the end zone, and a failed two-point play gave Tuscola a 14-8 lead, which they would take into the locker room at halftime.
In the second half it was SOV that came out strong, scoring two touchdowns in the third quarter while holding the Warriors scoreless.
Tuscola entered the fourth quarter of play on offense down 22-14. A drive that took them down to the 9-yard line of the Redskins, ended in sack on fourth-and-15. The defense held the Redskins scoreless on their next drive and the offense answered, scoring another touchdown on a 31-yard pass to Knight with 5:55 left in the game. N. Bates made a leaping dive over the goal line to give Tuscola two more points and tie the game at 22.
SOV’s final scoring drive of the night started at its own 42 after the kickoff. Ray Kerkhoff, Keagan Kibler, and Josh Knight made some big stops for the defense, but it wasn’t enough to keep SOV’s Nick Frerichs out the end zone on a quarterback run from two yards out. The kick was no good, so SOV led 28-22 with 3:44 to play.
N. Bates was sacked twice for losses of five and 10 yards on the Warriors’ final drive and SOV ran out the clock.
Post-game comments from fans made it evident that the loss came as a shock to many who expected the Warriors to lose very few games this season. Statistics don’t always provide an explanation, after all the Warriors offense spent less time on the field in the first two games than their opponents, but they came away with convincing wins.
However, the statistics last Friday are telling of some things that went wrong for Tuscola. Josh Knight, the Warriors safety, led the team in tackles with 12 total, followed by Nick Henderson, who had eight total. He had three tackles for loss; and starting lineman Clayton Turner, who had seven tackles total, had two for losses. N. Bates, who rushed for 91 yards on Friday, had five rush plays for a total loss of 25 yards. He hadn’t been tackled for a loss a single time in the previous two games.
After reviewing film, Coach Reinhart had the following observation about line play on Friday night.
“The positive we can take away is that we gave tremendous effort on every play. The negative is that that effort was not always channeled into the right spot, so we’ve got to go back and learn our roles. We need to remember that if a guy is making up for someone else who is not doing his job, then we’ve got two roles being underperformed. Our defense front ran up against a good, veteran quarterback on Friday and he beat us. Our discipline, which has been a mainstay on both side of the ball so far this season, was just not there Friday. The great thing about football is that it’s a team game and we’ve got to get back to everyone performing as a team. When we watched film, guys owned their mistakes, I owned my mistakes and we move forward getting ready for the toughest team in the conference on Friday.”
Reinhart continued, “Dalton Hoel played a great game for us. He got crushed several times and the thing is, getting crushed at 5’3” is different than when you’re 6’1”. But here’s the thing about Dalton, Nick has confidence in him because he runs the right routes, he catches the ball and then makes athletic moves for yards. We have to give props to him for his play on Friday.”
Looking ahead to Friday night, Tuscola will face a Shelbyville team who enters the contest 3-0 on the season after they crushed Clinton 50-19 last Friday at home. Coach Reinhart knows it won’t be easy.
“This week we have a lot of work to do on getting our discipline back and redefining our roles. ‘Do your job’ will be our motto this week. We’ve got some younger kids in key positions and we have confidence in them. We’ll be ready to face a Shelbyville team that is probably the toughest game on our schedule.”
Due to the rigorous schedule many of the freshmen and sophomores have faced the past week, many of them playing five games in seven days, the freshman game scheduled for Thursday night at Shelbyville has been cancelled. The team will play a frosh/soph game at home Monday, Sept. 22.