DECATUR — Dalton Hoel loves pressure.
That's when he finds another gear, and he turned that gear into overdrive at St. Teresa Friday night.
The Tuscola senior hauled in just three catches on a mud-riddled field, but caught two of them over the middle and used his blazing speed to find the end zone in leading the Warriors to a 24-21 Central Illinois Conference win against St. Teresa — their 27th straight regular season win.
Tuscola coach Andy Romine summed his four-year staring receiver up succinctly.
"Dalton Hoel is a bad dude," Romine said.
Hoel had 88 receiving yards and two touchdowns on offense and a key interception, one of four St. Teresa turnovers, late in the third quarter.
With the game tied 14-14 at halftime, Tuscola (7-0, 5-0 CIC) opened the second half with a four-play, 77-yard drive capped off by a 51-yard touchdown pass from Luke Sluder (5-of-10 for 124 yards) to Hoel.
“They were huge," Hoel said of his touchdown receptions. "The best part about them was our quarterback Luke Sluder made two perfect throws. If he puts them anywhere else, I'm going to get tackled from behind or tackled by the safety coming across the middle."
Since 2015, Hoel has eight receptions for 278 yards and five touchdowns against St. Teresa to go along with a passing score in 2015.
But his catches against the Bulldogs on Friday were key.
“That was a little disappointing in itself," St. Teresa coach Mark Ramsey said. "We felt like we had the scheme we wanted and we've got to execute there. He's a good player. He's a good player and he's been starting for four years and we've seen a lot of him.”
But Jacardia Wright and the Bulldogs (6-1, 4-1) weren't going to go quietly. He rushed 30 times for 236 yards and two scores and added an interception on defense.
After the Tuscola score, Wright, a junior, broke off a 57-yard run that set up a 10-yard touchdown pass from Jack Hogan to Tyler Phillips to tie the game once again.
Despite the big numbers from Wright and Hogan (5-for-10 for 106 yards and a TD), Romine was happy with his team's defense.
"I thought the key for us defensively was we gave up a big play to start the second half after we scored, but outside of that we were pretty solid," Romine said. "They made some nice play calls because we were having to borrow some secondary kids to get some stops. Just a damn good high school football game is what it was."
Cale Sementi (2 tackles, 2 tackles for losses and five assisted tackles), Hunter Woodard (2 solo, 5 assist, 1 TFL) and Kevin Miller (4 solo, 4 assisted 1 tackle for loss) anchored the defensive front.
The winning score came with 10:25 left when Tuscola's Cade Kresin made a 28-yard game-winning field goal.
Noah Pierce and Sluder proved to be a lethal running combination. Pierce lined up in a variety of packages, from running back to quarterback to receiver.
"There's nothing better than looking in the backfield and seeing him there," Hoel said of Pierce. "I just feel comfortable.
“You just watch him and he runs the ball hard and you just know he's going to handle the ball well and make good cuts."
Pierce finished with 75 rushing yards and a touchdown.
“For me, I've got the easy job," Pierce said. "(The lineman have) the hard job. I've just got to put my hand on the back of the big guys — all five of them up front — and go where they take me."
The field conditions didn't do either team any favors. Both teams plopped on a plethora of their own fumbles, but the Bulldogs weren't always as lucky.
St. Teresa turned it over twice in the first half, directly leading to Tuscola touchdowns.
"We've done a great job all year of taking care of the football and I know that the slick ball of course had something to do with it, but that's no excuse for turning it over that many times," Ramsey said.
Tuscola threw a pair of interceptions, one picked off by Wright and one by Joey Staab.
“You saw two teams that were trying to win the games in the conditions that were given to us," Romine added. "Look out at that mud in the middle of the field, it changes the way you call plays."
Not done yet
Romine isn't letting his team get complacent after taking an inside track on the conference championship.
One loss separates Tuscola from a tie between Shelbyville and St. Teresa with two games remaining.
But after coming off a four-game gauntlet against Shelbyville, Central A&M, Warrensburg-Latham and St. Teresa, Hoel knows it's not done yet.
“Coach says all the time, you want to take that mountain going up and you don't want to go down the mountain during the season," Hoel said. "You want to hit that peak the last game of the season. We're progressively trying to get better."
Building a connection
Hogan found Phillips for four of his completions — the other went to Stanley Rogers — for 93 yards.
With defenses keyed on Wright most of the time, the connection between the quarterback and Phillips, receiver Michael Less and Rogers could pay dividends moving forward.
Money well spent
Four dollars doesn't go as far as it used to, but it went a long way Friday.
The fences of the field were lined with fans, tents set up behind one end zone, JFL players behind another end zone and more than enough passion oozing from the crowd to the field.
Coaches took notice.
"This is a testament to both towns," Romine said. "That's got to be the best four dollars you can spend on the weekend to go watch a high school football game like that with that crowd."