Analysis

Sterling facing showdown against Rock Island

The Rocks have rolled three opponents thus far, and it will be up to Sterling to put a halt to that.

Sterling will face its toughest test of the season thus far when Rock Island comes to town Friday night. Game time is 7 p.m. at Roscoe Eades Stadium for a matchup between 3-0 clubs.

Rock Island has put up 129 total points in wins against Moline, United Township and Galesburg thus far, and that has the attention of Golden Warriors head coach Jon Schlemmer.

“They’re awfully good,” Schlemmer said. “Their skill-position kids are probably some of the best we’ve seen in a long, long time. They have tons of depth at the skill positions, and a quarterback who can distribute it to them. Up front, week by week, you see them on film and they’re getting better and better, and it’s the same way defensively. We’re trying to figure them out, but they’re awfully good.”

The rushing attack is paced by Marriyon Rogers, who has 56 carries for 245 yards and three touchdowns. He gets the bulk of the work, as the rusher with the next-biggest totals is quarterback Eli Rogers, who has 29 attempts for 84 yards and two scores.

Rogers has completed 46 of 60 passes for 711 yards, with eight touchdowns and no interceptions. His top targets are Cole Rusk, who has 18 catches for 218 yards and four TDs, and Jakobe Bea, with 12 grabs for 258 yards and two scores.

Schlemmer estimated the Rocks pass about 60% of the time.

“They really stress you in space,” Schlemmer said. “What they do a good job of is they get matchups where they like their guys in and they keep going after that. They do really good things offensively.”

Sterling defensive tackle Junior Farnham looked at getting heat on Rogers as the key to success.

“Our front is doing really well this season, and I think the best thing for us is to get in the backfield as much as possible and put as much pressure on the quarterback as we can,” Farnham said. “We need to make it harder for him to get the ball to his skill players. That will be the best thing for us. Our defensive backs are good enough to stop athletes when they need to, so I think we’ll be all right.”

Teams have been able to score on Rock Island, as they are allowing 29.3 points per game.

“They’re not the biggest, but they fly to the ball and they don’t give up on plays,” Sterling right guard Ryan Heffelfinger said. “The play could be 10 yards away from them and all the guys are still flying to the ball.”

Sterling is putting up 30 points per contest in wins against Alleman, Geneseo and Quincy, and it has played much stouter defense. The Golden Warriors have allowed a mere 13 points, highlighted by a shutout of Geneseo.

The Golden Warriors feature a balanced rushing attack led by Noel Aponte, who has 35 carries for 230 yards and five touchdowns, and David Tessman, who has 30 rushes for 220 yards. Jahshawn Howard has 33 carries for 161 yards and one score, while Kael Ryan has 33 rushes for 121 yards and five TDs.

Drew Kested has completed 17 of 23 passes for 138 yards. His top target is Carter Ryan with 12 catches for 160 yards.

The plan is create holes in the Rocks’ defense so the balanced Sterling backfield can do its thing, according to Heffelfinger.

“The line’s got to have a good push and good double-teams,” Heffelfinger said. “The running backs have to keep finding the holes, and I think we’ll be just fine.”

This contest will go a long way toward determining the Western Big Six championship. Sterling has games remaining at Moline and against East Moline, but those clubs are a combined 1-5. This is likely the biggest hurdle remaining for the Golden Warriors, and Schlemmer likes where his team is at.

“It’s never going to be as good as you want it as a coach, but I think our kids are progressing,” Schlemmer said. “I think we’re getting better. We’re working hard. I don’t think we’ve played our best game yet, but we’re going to have to on Friday.”