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MOWEAQUA — Brandon Douglas found himself in a new position.

Usually the Tuscola junior is sprinting towards the opposing punter in an attempt to get a hand on the punt.

But this time, it was Douglas' teammate Matthew Cantu careening towards Central A&M punter Connor Hutchins, who was dealing with a bad snap.

Cantu hit Hutchins and Douglas found himself alone with the football. He picked it up and scampered in for a 8-yard touchdown to give Tuscola a 13-point lead midway through the second quarter on the way to a 55-28 Central Illinois Conference win over Central A&M amid a downpour throughout the game.

“I’m normally the one blocking the punts, so that was a first for me," Douglas said. “It’s different. It’s still a rush. I like it a lot. I’m here to make my team better and whatever happens happens."

Two Tuscola possessions later, Douglas was on the receiving end of a 45-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Luke Sluder to give the Warriors (3-0, 1-0) a 27-7 lead with 1:31 left in the first half.

But A&M (2-1, 0-1) still had life. Quarterback Connor Heaton launched a 19-yard touchdown pass to Jacob Paradee, who caught the ball in the front corner of the left side of the end zone and tapped a foot in bounds to cut the lead to 27-14 with 15.7 seconds left before halftime, with the Raiders getting the ball back at the half.

Momentum was building.

But on the second play of the second half, A&M running back Konnor Ohl fumbled the ball and Tuscola junior Jacob Kibler pounced on it.

Six plays later Sluder ran in a 10-yard run for a 33-14 lead with 8:25 left in the third.

“Anytime the defense gets a stop, the offense’s job is to capitalize," Sluder said.

A&M jumped out to a 7-0 lead after Heaton threw his first of three touchdown passes on a 29-yard strike to Hutchins. Heaton finished 16 of 32 for 239 yards.

The next 27 points belonged to Tuscola, including a score on the very next possession, a 13-play, 60-yard drive.

“Your resolve gets tested when that happens to you," Tuscola coach Andy Romine said. "We knew they were capable of it, coming down here on this field and those athletes and the way they like to do things, they’re really capable."

Before the game, with rain falling down on Mark Ramsey Field in Moweaqua, Romine told Sluder to be ready to run.

As the rain let up briefly in the third quarter, Sluder hurled the ball around the field, going 9 of 14 for 210 yards and three touchdowns to go along with 117 rushing yards and three touchdowns.

The Warriors are no stranger to inclement conditions — they beat St. Teresa in a rainy game last season and advanced to the state championship despite a cold rain at Athens in the semifinals.

“Coach actually told me right before the game to get ready to pound the ball up the middle to run, but we played in Athens and St. T last year and those were real muddy games and rainy games," Sluder said. "That really prepared us."

The Raiders had 10 penalties for 100 yards and turned the ball over twice.

It's everything head coach Brent Weakly advised his team not to do in the week leading up to the game.

“We talked before the game: No more penalties. We had too many," Weakly said. "We turned the ball over and we weren’t all that successful on special teams. In big games like that against teams like this, you can’t have those mistakes."

Still, A&M wouldn't go away in the second half.

Heaton found Paradee for another touchdown in the second half. Paradee finished with eight catches for 149 yards and threw a touchdown on a wide receiver pass to Hutchins, but A&M never got closer than 20 points down the stretch.

The Raiders rushed for 25 yards as a team against the Warriors' vaunted defensive line of CJ Picazo, Brayden VonLanken, Ashton Jones and Bradly Mast.

Caden Cradel was also part of the defensive front, but was ejected after a pair of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in the third quarter, which will cost him next week's home game against St. Teresa.

“They're a really good group up front on both sides of the football," Weakly said. "They were able to establish the run and they were able to stop us from running it. It kind of made us one-dimensional."

The penalties had the Warriors facing a third-and-30 situation, and Sluder found Douglas (3 catches, 95 yards, 2 touchdowns) over the middle for a 40-yard touchdown pass.

It wasn't exactly what Sluder or Douglas were expecting.

“We didn’t expect to get a touchdown, but we expected to get a huge play out of it," Douglas said.

Said Sluder: “After those two unsportsmanlike conduct (penalties) we took a shot down field, might as well, and it happened to work in our favor."

 

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Contact Joey Wagner at (217) 421-6970. Follow him on Twitter: @mrwagner25

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Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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