DEKALB — Maroa-Forsyth and Tuscola football playing at state — it's become a Herald & Review-area tradition on the day after Thanksgiving.
For the fourth time since 2006, both teams made runs to the state championship game — Tuscola in Class 1A and Maroa in Class 2A. And though neither team brought home the first-place trophy, both had memorable championship performances, making it the Herald & Review's No. 4 sports story of 2017.
Maroa had to replace its leading passer, rusher and receiver from last year, and did it effortlessly, with sophomore Ian Benner stepping in at quarterback and senior Deondre Gregory having a breakout year at running back.
Like last year, after a Week 3 loss to Williamsville, Maroa won 10 straight games and made state for the seventh time since 2006. The playoff run included a 20-16 come-from-behind win against Hamilton West Hancock and bad-weather win in the semifinals against Shelbyville. The Trojans led Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley in the title game until the Falcons scored the game-deciding TD with 1:08 left to win 38-32.
Tuscola had gone undefeated in the previous two regular seasons only to get upset in the playoffs. But behind quarterback Luke Sluder and receiver Dalton Hoel, the Warriors had a third straight undefeated regular season and survived a muddy semifinal against Athens to make it back to state for the first time since 2011.
In the title game, Tuscola fell behind 21-7 at half, but stormed back in the third quarter to pull within one point against Lena-Winslow. While the Warriors held off Lena's offense, the Warriors weren't able to score on their final four possessions and lost 21-20.