The key for Sterling in Friday night’s game against Alleman might just be getting off to a fast start and setting the tone early.
It worked last year in a 49-7 win, as Sterling scored six touchdowns on 25 first-half plays and added a pick-six to the mix. The defense also limited the Pioneers to minus-6 yards of total offense before halftime, and 79 yards total for the game.
“I think we’ve just got to punch them in the mouth,” Sterling junior Isaiah Mendoza said. “We have good players, they have some pretty good players. We’ve just got to come out swinging, set the tone right away.”
But those young Pioneers from last season is a year older and more experienced, and after scoring just two touchdowns in 2021, they’ve already got a Week 1 win under their belts this fall.
“They’re definitely improved. Anchoring their offensive line is probably one of the top players in the country, and No. 33, their middle linebacker and running back, he’s a really good player,” Sterling coach Jon Schlemmer said. “They’ve got a few pieces that are really nice, and our kids need to understand that it’s a conference opponent and you have to be ready, They all count the same in the win-loss column, so our kids have to be able to go out there and execute the things we ask them to.”
The lineman is 6-foot-6, 295-pound Charles Jagusah, a Notre Dame commit who’s ranked as a five-star, top-100 prospect by almost every recruiting service. And No. 33 is Andrew Torres, who leads Alleman (1-2) with 313 yards and three touchdowns on 53 rushes this season.
Quentin Fonseca, who played quarterback last season, is at running back this year, and has 23 rushes for 125 yards and a touchdown. New QB Daniel VanDeHeede is 14-for-39 passing for 199 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions, and Ethan Goerlett (3 catches, 41 yards, TD) and Fonseca (2 catches, 48 yards) lead the way for the eight different receivers that have caught passes this season.
The key for Sterling’s D is to fill their responsibilities, and take away the Pioneers’ perimeter game.
“They run a lot of tosses, so we’re going to send some outside linebackers and try to shut down their outside stuff,” Mendoza said.
“We need our linebackers and linemen to really hit their gaps, and as long as us back-half guys do our job, we should be perfectly fine,” senior AJ Kested added.
When the Golden Warriors have the ball, look for a steady dose of quarterbacks Kael Ryan and JP Schilling and a corps of running backs led by Kested and Cale Ledergerber.
Ryan has run for 270 yards and six touchdowns, Schilling has run for 129 yards and six scores, and Kested (98 yards, 2 TDs) and Ledergerber (58 yards, TD) are stepping in for the injured Antonio Tablante.
The ground game was the key to last week’s win over Galesburg in the Western Big 6 opener, and Sterling will look to do more of that Friday night.
“Our offensive linemen did a really good job of getting really good push, and I think our running backs did a good job of running hard,” Kested said. “We had good blocking out in space, and I hope we can carry that over to this week.”
“We established the run, got a few good passes in,” Mendoza added. “I think we just have to keep perfecting that and getting better.”
Schlemmer would like to see the improvement come in the passing game. Schilling has thrown for 185 yards and Ryan has 82 yards through the air, and Mendoza (5 catches, 126 yards) leads a group of nine receivers who have caught passes.
But consistency with the aerial attack is what the Warriors want to see.
“We were able to get it going on the ground a little bit last week. Through the air, it wasn’t consistent; we hit a big one early, and were able to complete some seam routes, but Galesburg did a good job on us defensively,” Schlemmer said. “They played kind of a 5-2 and played us straight man-to-man, and luckily for us, we were able to get some things on the ground, but through the air, we’re going to see man-to-man again at some point, people are going to play us that way some more, so we have to learn how to get open.
“On the ground, AJ kind of got us rolling, both quarterbacks did a good job, and Cale got in the end zone. Antonio was out, but hopefully we get him back soon. Those guys up front, no matter who’s back there, our offensive line has continued to do a good job.”