The Sterling Golden Warriors will open the fall of 2021 with a team they would have faced in the fall of 2020, had there been a fall season.
Sterling was going to face Lake Villa Lakes, but even with the pandemic wiping out the fall 2020 matchup, Sterling re-signed a two-year contract to face them.
“They’re a really good 6A program, kind of perennially with Antioch in that league over the last couple of years,” Sterling coach Jon Schlemmer said. “They’ve had some really good players and really good teams.”
The past 11 postseasons, the Eagles have been there, going 6-3 in the regular season to grab a No. 9 seed in 2019.
For the Golden Warriors, the schedule brings in another historically strong program in Week 2. After initially scheduling North Scott out of Eldridge, Iowa in 2020, they were unable to reschedule that game for this fall, so Sterling will host Lombard Montini instead.
Montini, the six-time state champion, hasn’t missed a postseason since 1992 and has put up double-digit wins nine times since 2008, including in 2018 when the Broncos were the state runner-up in Class 5A. Montini reached that state title game with a 42-20 win over Sterling in the semifinal at Roscoe Eades Stadium.
“It’s a product of having success between the lines we’ve had the last few years that it’s pretty difficult for us to get a game,” Schlemmer said. “Not many teams wanted to play us. We got Montini and they’re coming to our place. Their program speaks for itself. … To push ourselves, I think after Weeks 1 and 2 we’re going to have a pretty good idea of who we are. You could come out of those two weeks 0-2 or 2-0, and even if you’re 0-2 you could be a pretty good ballclub because those are two really good programs.”
The Western Big 6 opens conference play Week 3 with Sterling facing Galesburg. With only a six-game schedule for the abbreviated spring 2021 season, the Silver Streaks was the one team in the conference that Sterling did not face. Galesburg opened the spring 2021 campaign with a pair of wins before dropping four straight, the last a 23-20 loss to Alleman in which Galesburg led 20-0 in the third quarter.
“They have a new coach coming in [Derrick Blackwell], a guy who’s been on staff, so we don’t really know what they’ll do,” Schlemmer said. “But they have some really talented kids in this class, a lot of kids who as sophomores played us at our place Week 9 in 2019, and you could see that sophomore class at the time, seniors this year, would be a special group for them.”
The conference slate then continues with Alleman before a trip to Geneseo, then home with Quincy, at Rock Island, and hosting Moline.
“You’ve got Alleman in there, I think Geneseo’s going to be better, I think Quincy’s going to be better,” Schlemmer said. “Rock Island clearly has some great talent, and Moline, I think they’re going to be really talented this year. They bring so many kids back, especially on offense.”
Sterling closes its fall regular season with the team it faced to cap off the spring season: United Township. Cayne Smith, who rushed for over 340 yards in the April 23 meeting, has graduated, but United Township still looks to be a team on the rise, and the Panthers’ last-second win over Sterling left a bad taste in a lot of Warriors’ mouths.
“I don’t think everything went right for us, but there’s no excuse; they beat our butts the last week of the season,” Schlemmer said. “Our kids, hopefully that can open our eyes a little bit and refocus, because they did a really good job of exposing us in a few spots.”