The last time the Sterling football team walked off Prescott Memorial Field, there was a bitter taste in the Golden Warriors’ mouths.
They hope to rectify that Saturday afternoon.
With Senior Night ending in a disappointing 38-7 loss to eventual Western Big 6 champion Moline in Week 8, Sterling gets another chance to play at Roscoe Eades Stadium when it hosts Chicago St. Patrick in a Class 5A first-round playoff game at 2 p.m. Saturday.
“Obviously the last time we were here, the game didn’t go the way we wanted it to,” senior quarterback/defensive back Drew Kested said. “So hopefully we can go out there Saturday and play better, get the job done and walk out of here with a good taste in our mouth this time.”
It won’t be an easy task, as this is no ordinary 4 seed vs. 13 seed matchup. St. Patrick went 5-4, but its list of losses is a murderer’s row of powerhouse teams: De La Salle (No. 2 in its class in Michigan), St. Rita, Fenwick and Loyola Academy.
“You look at their losses, and they got beat by some really good teams,” Sterling coach Jon Schlemmer said Saturday night after the pairings were announced.
After a few days of film study and game-planning, Schlemmer knows the Shamrocks aren’t your typical 5-4 football team.
Offensively, quarterback Jermaine Young is a dual threat running a spread-out run-pass option attack. Running back Alex Goworowski was the player of the year in the CCL/ESCC Purple Division, and senior Carl Verde was the lineman of the year. Receiver/DBs Jack Fuller and PJ Summers also earned all-conference nods, as did fullback/D-lineman Nick Armenta, tight end/linebacker Owen Lyons, defensive back Isiah Smith, linemen Joey Thornton and Adrien De La Pena, and receiver/linebacker Esai Sinceno.
When St. Patrick has the ball, there are several weapons the Warriors will have to keep their eyes on, none more so than Young.
“I think they ran the ball a little bit more last week than they have maybe on the other things that we’ve seen, but the quarterback’s a really good player,” Schlemmer said. “He’s scary because he does so many good things; he’s able to throw it effectively and push the ball vertically. They have guys who aren’t afraid to beat it up on the perimeter, and at the end of the day, when the ball is the quarterback’s hands, he makes some plays. He’s a scary player to try to defend.”
As with a lot of the athletic teams Sterling sees in the Western Big 6, the defense will do its best to try and make the Shamrocks one-dimensional.
“We know their quarterback’s good, and they’ve got a good running back,” Kested said. “They like to run the ball, so I think if we establish a strong defense against the run game, we’ll be looking pretty good.”
On the other side of the ball, St. Patrick boasts a talented, disciplined defense that can force turnovers and chase down ballcarriers and receivers.
“I think more than anything they’re just really solid. They do a lot of things the right way,” Schlemmer said. “Defensively they’re aligned right and the kids play downhill. They’ve got a couple of really nice players in the back half, and you don’t see them making a whole lot of mistakes really anywhere on the ball.”
Sterling is led by junior running back Antonio Tablante, who has stepped up after myriad injuries to take over as the workhorse. He has rushed for 1,065 yards and 14 touchdowns on 181 carries, while sophomore Cale Ledergerber has also stepped into a backup role in the backfield to the tune of 215 rushing yards.
Kested has run for 468 yards and nine scores, and also thrown for 563 yards, two TDs and three interceptions. With top target Carter Ryan out with a torn ACL, Tommy Tate (14 catches, 133 yards) and Jacob Huffman (6 catches, 58 yards) have stepped up.
“We want to be able to run the ball, but also do a little bit of everything,” Kested said. “I’ve got trust in our guys, as I’m sure they’ve got trust in their guys, but I’d pick our guys over their guys any day of the week.”
It’s the seventh straight season – and the 18th time in 19 seasons – that the Warriors have made it to the playoffs, and they’re looking to make it seven straight seasons with a playoff victory. Sterling hasn’t lost a first-round playoff game since 2012, and this group of seniors is looking to add their name to the long list of classes with playoff success at Sterling.
“We’ve had some injuries here and there with some pretty key players, but this is our team,” Kested said. “I keep telling all the seniors this is our team, so we want to leave our mark and continue on the legacy that Sterling has every single year.”
To do so, Schlemmer knows it will take all the effort his players can give. And while he’s happy with what he’s seen this week – and throughout the season, as well – he knows that when it comes to the playoffs, it takes a whole new level of play to find that success.
“It’s really important for us just to understand that it’s going to take us being really good if we want to win,” he said. “And when you get to late October or early November, in the playoffs, you’ve got to catch a few breaks. We can’t have mental lapses, can’t turn the ball over. To say a high school football team needs to play perfect is pretty hard to say, but we need to play as close to it as we can. We need to eliminate as many mistakes as we can.
“We’ve been here before, and our kids understand the level of program that we’re going to be playing, and they’re ready to get out there and try to take advantage of the opportunity they earned with another home game – but it’s not going to be easy.”