By Al Zipsie

The NUIC once again proved they are the best small football Conference in the State. It's the 19th State Championship won by the NUIC and 12th in the past 15 seasons.

Friday Lena-Winslow beat Tuscola 21-20 for the 1A State title at NIU's Huskie Stadium. Lena-Winslow finished unbeaten in 14 outings and won its third State Football Championship. They tie for the lead in NUIC State Championships at three along with Dakota, Aquin, and Galena.

The Panthers had to get by a tough team from the South in Tuscola who finished 13-1. Lena-Winslow is now 3-0 in state title games in school history. The Panthers were leading 21-7 heading into the final quarter. Tuscola then put together two third-quarter touchdowns capping off drives with four and five-yard touchdown passes from quarterback Luke Sluder. After the second TD with 42 seconds left in the third quarter, Tuscola cut the lead to 21-20. Going for the PAT kick and a tie, the snap went into the arms of Dalton Hoel who took off for what would have been a two-point conversion and the lead. However, Ty Chrisman then made a stop of Hoel short of the end zone. That point proved to be the game-winner for Lena-Winslow.

Neither team would score again in the final quarter and the Panthers would hold on for the crown. Tuscola did threaten. With 2:13 left a Sluder pass was intercepted by the Panthers Gige Schwartz. However, on the first play, Lena-Winslow turned it back over as all-state running back Rahveon Valentine fumbled. Sluder then was forced out of the pocket and ran nine yards to the Panthers 29 yard line. Then a fourth-down pass from Sluder was off target and Lena-Winslow took over. Tuscola was hoping to complete one more pass and go for a potential game-winning field goal.

Sluder had the ball in his hands 54 times on offense. He rushed 22 times for 53 yards and threw 32 passes, but completed only 12 for 116 yards with the one late interception. Lena-Winslow's front defensive four was something Tuscola has never faced. All-State lineman Ian Kuehl along with Michael Jones, Parker Magee, and sophomore Isaiah Bruce combined for 23 tackles and was sacked five times. Bruce, at defensive end and an imposing 6 foot 3 240 pounds, batted down three passes at the line of scrimmage. Kuehl and sophomore linebacker Sean Ormiston were in on eight tackles each.

Tuscola actually scored first on a five-yard Andrew Erickson five-yard run with 4:16 left in the first quarter. Lena-Winslow answered back with 1:00 left in the opening quarter Chrisman hit Bruce for a 72-yard touchdown pass. Chrisman only needed to throw five passes with both completions to Bruce. It was another big play strike for the Panthers when Valentine took it 76 yards to the house early in the second quarter. Valentine then went 22 yards for a TD with 7:09 left in the first half. The 21 unanswered points gave Lena-Winslow a 21-7 cushion at halftime. Magee converted on all three of his PAT kicks. The offensive line was opening holes behind Kuehl, Jones and Kenny Broge.

Tuscola then came roaring back as Lena-Winslow did not score in the second half. Tuscola, got the two third-quarter touchdowns which cut the lead to 21-20 before the conversion failed and the Panthers hung on.

Valentine finished with 140 yards rushing on 19 carries. For the season he finished with 2,165 yards and 4,631 for his career. Ormiston added 79 yards on nine rushes.

Lena-Winslow coach Ric Arand tied Jerry Lano of Dakota for second in NUIC all-time coaching wins at 179. Both are also tied for the most state championships coached at three each. John O'Boyle of Stockton with 279 wins is the leader in coaching wins. All three are in the Illinois coaching Hall of Fame.

The NUIC won a pair of State titles in both 1A and 2A with Aquin and Dakota in 2005. Galena and Dakota in 2007. And Forreston with Eastland/Pearl City in 2014.

With Lena-Winslow winning 1A football championship. And Durand third in girls volleyball.  Here is an up to date list of NUIC All-Time State Hardware. A running tally can always be found on Facebook. NUIC Sports. As well as NUIC Track records.

NUIC Hardware. Top four state finishes. School-Total-First-Second-Third-Fourth. Current leaders at 15 state hardware are Dakota and West Carroll (including Consolidation, Savanna, Mt. Carroll and Thomson), Dakota leads with the most state championships with nine. All since 2005.

Dakota. 15. 9-3-2-1.

1st. Football. 2005, 2007, 2011. Wrestling 2006. 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016. Volleyball. 2011.

2nd. Wrestling. 1994. Volleyball 2012, 2014.

3rd-Wrestling. 2005, 2007.

4th-Wrestling. 1989.

West Carroll. 15. 

West Carroll. 1. 0-0-0-1. 4th. Softball 2009.

Before Consolidation.

Savanna. 10. 6-1-3-0.

1st. Wrestling. 1974, 1975, 1977, 1979, 1980, 1982.

2nd. Boys track. 1985.

3rd. Wrestling. 1962. 1878. 1983.

Mt. Carroll. 3. 0-2-1-0.

2nd. Boys basketball. 1911, 2003.

3rd. Boys basketball. 1909.

Thomson. 1. 0-0-0-1.

4th. Boys basketball. 1972.

Eastland. 12. 4-3-1-4. (Lanark and Shannon had none prior to Consolidation.)

1st. Football. 2014. Volleyball. 2008. 2009. 2015.

2nd. Volleyball 2016. Softball 1999. Baseball. 2011.

3rd. Girls basketball. 2014.

4th. Volleyball. 2013. Boys basketball 2010, 2013. Baseball. 2009.

Stockton. 10. 3-5-1-1.

1st. Football. 1978, 1991. Wrestling. Coop with Lena-Winslow. 2017.

2nd. Football. 1975, 1977, 2004, 2012. Wrestling. Coop with Lena-Winslow 2012.

3rd. Girls basketball. 2001.

4th. Girls basketball. 1993.

Lena-Winslow. 9. 4-2-0-3.

1st. Football. 2010, 2013, 2017. Wrestling. 2017.

2nd. Wrestling 2012. Boys track 1993.

4th. Boys basketball 1984. Baseball 2012. Volleyball 2002.

Forreston. 7. 2-1-3-1.

1st. Football. 2014, 2016.

2nd. Girls track 1995.

3rd. Boys track Coop with Polo 2017. Girls track 1996. Boys cross country 1987.

4th. Boys basketball 2015.

Aquin. 5. All five State Championships.

1st. Football 1981, 1986, 2005. Girls basketball 2012, 2013.

Galena. 4. 3-1-0-0.

1st. Football 1997, 2003, 2007.

2nd. Football. 1999.

Amboy. 4. 1-2-0-1.

1st. Football 1984.

2nd. Football 1979, 1980.

4th. Softball 2014.

Durand. 2. 0-1-1-0.

2nd. Football 1985.

3rd. Volleyball 2017.

Milledgeville. 2. 1-0-1-0.

1st. Softball 2013.

2nd. Softball 2012.

Orangeville. 1. 1-0-0-0.

1st. Football 1989.

Also won state hardware in current Coop with Dakota wrestling.

Pearl City. 1. 1-0-0-0.

1st. Football Coop with Eastland 2014.

River Ridge. 1. 0-1-0-0.

2nd. Girls basketball 2011.

Scales Mound. 1. 0-1-0-0.

2nd. Volleyball 2010.

Polo. 1. 0-0-1-0.

3rd. Boys track Coop with Forreston 2017.

East Dubuque. 1. 0-0-0-1.

4th. Volleyball 1979.