One way or another, Sterling knew its name was going to be called Saturday night when the IHSA announced the 256 teams that would comprise the field for this year’s football playoffs.
The only question was would the Golden Warriors get to play a first-round game.
A strike among Chicago Public League teachers put many of those playoff-eligible teams in jeopardy of forfeiting their first-round games either Friday or Saturday. Sterling was among the teams wondering if they’d suit up or receive a free pass to the second round.
As it turned out, the Golden Warriors will have to earn their way down the playoff trail.
Sterling drew Chicago Heights Marian as its first-round playoff opponent. The Golden Warriors and Spartans will tee it up Friday at Roscoe Eades Stadium.
Sterling coach Jon Schlemmer is pleased that is the case.
“You only get so many of these,” Schlemmer said. “We gave ourselves the opportunity to play Week 10, and that’s what we wanted to do. We’ve got to be at the top of our game from now on.”
Marian (5-4) is a member of the Chicago Catholic League’s East Suburban Catholic Conference, Red Division, along with DePaul Prep, Leo and Westchester St. Joseph. Marian defeated those teams to win the league title, as well as decisions against Oak Lawn and Bowman Academy in Gary, Ind.
The Spartans’ losses came to other Chicago Catholic League teams Woodstock Marian, Lisle Benet, St. Rita and St. Ignatius.
“The level of competition they’ve seen this year has been extremely good,” Schlemmer said. “You’re talking some of the upper-echelon teams in the state come from that conference year-in and year-out. They’re going to be prepared. They’ve played against teams with a lot of success like we’ve had the last couple of years, so by no means do I think there will be any sort of intimidation factor coming in here.
“They’ve played really good teams, and done some really good things.”
After watching film of Marian this week, Schlemmer noted he’s seen a good run/pass balance, and a dangerous attack that averaged 33.5 points per game this season.
“They’ll be in two-back and run it right at you, but they can also spread you out and push the ball vertically with some really good athletes on the outside,” Schlemmer said. “We’re going to have to make sure we’re prepared for all of it, and really have to defend the whole field.”
As for Sterling (9-0), everything seems to be in order. The Golden Warriors won a Western Big 6 title in their first year in the league, and had an undefeated regular-season record for the 12th time in school history.
“We were able to check two goals off our box on Friday night with a conference championship and a 9-0 regular season,” Schlemmer said. “I’m really proud of them. It takes a lot of hard work, and not just during the regular season, to accomplish those goals. The kids put the work in. They stayed focused throughout the entire conference slate, and it paid off.
“It’s a new season, and we’re just excited to still be playing.”