While their official nickname is Golden Warriors, the Sterling football team should maybe change it to Road Warriors.
For the fourth time in five weeks, Sterling (4-1, 3-0) will get on the bus to take a trip to play – and it’s another lengthy one this week, as the Warriors head to Quincy for their fourth Western Big 6 game.
The Blue Devils are also 4-1, with their lone loss coming to Moline in Week 3. Aside from that, they’ve dominated in their last three wins, outscoring Alton 48-19, United Township 49-14, and Galesburg 42-14.
“They’re off to a really good start, 4-1 just like we are. I think that they’ve got a couple of nice wins on their résumé already, conference wins, and their only loss is to Moline, which they played pretty well,” Sterling coach Jon Schlemmer said.
Quincy relies on its aerial attack, led by quarterback Bradyn Little. He’s 72-for-111 passing for 1,140 yards, 11 touchdowns and six interceptions, and has connected with seven different receivers for at least five receptions each.
Gregory Quince leads the way with 21 catches for 307 yards and 4 TDs, and Tykell Hammers has 20 catches for 259 yards and a TD. Jack Mettemeyer has 10 receptions for 278 yards and four scores.
“They can really sling it around offensively; their quarterback is a sophomore, young kid, but he kind of makes things tick for them,” Schlemmer said. “He gets the ball out on time, throws the deep ball really well, and then he’s got a lot of toys on the outside that he can play with. Up front they do a really good job too, they give him time to throw, and in the run game, at times I think their run game is pretty darn good. It’s an impressive team that pops to you on film, just because of all the athletes that they have and the way that they’re able to run.”
Brian Douglas leads the rushing attack with 69 carries for 466 yards and seven touchdowns. Jeraius Rice has 42 rushes for 279 yards and five TDs.
The key to trying to contain such a potent offense comes down to discipline and instinct, and trust in the scheme and teammates.
“I think being more aggressive is key,” junior lineman Kendric Muhammad said. “We also have to focus on fundamentals. We have to be fast to our spots, fast to the ball, and just go out and play our game.”
“We’ve just got to know our jobs, play our gaps well, and just play ball,” senior lineman Christian Beasley added.
When the Golden Warriors have the ball, patience and execution are key. Sterling has had success on the ground and through the air, and the senior quarterback platoon of Kael Ryan and JP Schilling has been effective.
Ryan leads the team with 419 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on 45 carries, and he’s 9 for 19 through the air for 116 yards. Schilling is 24 for 37 for 359 yards, three TDs and an interception, and has also run 44 times for 205 yards and eight scores.
Running backs Antonio Tablante (33 rushes, 188 yards, 4 TDs), AJ Kested (20-177, 4 TDs) and Cale Ledergerber (20-109, 2 TDs) have formed a solid three-headed monster behind the QBs, and Isaiah Mendoza (6 catches, 130 yards), Justin Null (6-99, 2 TDs), Mason Emin (4-71, TD), Dylan Ottens (4-67) and Ledergerber (5-33, TD) lead a deep receiving corps.
But the big guys in the trenches are the main reason for Sterling’s success, and they just have to keep doing their jobs and getting better.
“Our O-line has to be more physical, and we’ve just got to get good movement, pass protect really well, and just do all the little things that we’ve been doing,” Beasley said.
Schlemmer notes Quincy’s speed and athleticism on offense is matched by its defense, and says the best way to find success Friday night is to sustain drives on offense and make sure the Warriors’ defense is fresh every time the Blue Devils take possession.
“They can run. They’ve got a few interior defensive line kids that are really athletic as well, so they can cause you problems getting upfield,” Schlemmer said. “We’re going to have to throw the ball early, we’re going to have to be able to convert first downs, we’re going to have to move the chains and all of those things. You don’t want to necessarily have to play keep-away from their offense, but if they’re out there a lot, it just gives their QB more opportunities to get the ball to his guys.
“So we’re going to have to control the ball – it’s not necessarily control the clock every time, it’s not like we have to slow things down – but we’ve just got to make sure when the ball’s in our hands that we’re taking care of it and moving it. We can’t have negative plays and things like that.”