STERLING – In a game in which both offenses were able to race down the field, United Township’s offense struck last, scoring with 22.8 seconds left to beat Sterling on Friday at Roscoe Eades Stadium 47-44, handing the Golden Warriors their first conference loss as members of the Western Big 6 and securing for UT a winning season for the first time since 2001.
Sterling seemed like it would deny the Panthers at the end. United Township took over at its own 13 with 2:23 to play down 44-40 and went nowhere with the first two plays of the drive, both incomplete passes, the second smacked out of the air by a blitzing Jason Farnham Jr. with the ferocity of a Brooklyn Borum kill.
But on third-and-10 Cayne Smith – by far the leading rusher in the conference, already over 1,000 yards in the first five games of the shortened season before Week 6 kicked off – raced up the middle to the Sterling 23, a 64-yard gain and a first down.
“Dig deep, notice what time it was, and go to work, swing back,” Smith said.
A pair of passes from Daslah Geadeyan moved the ball to the Warriors’ 1 with just over a minute to play, and from there it seemed the Warriors defense was poised to make one last stand to keep the Sterling record for the spring unblemished. Geadeyan attemped a quarterback sneak and was thrown for a loss. Smith took a handoff on second-and-goal, only getting back what Geadeyan had lost the play before.
On third and goal, United Township coach Nick Welch called on Smith once again, and he got in with a second effort, but the Panthers were flagged for the rarely-seen infraction of assisting the runner as another UT player had pushed Smith into the end zone from behind.
On third-and-goal from the 6, Geadeyan found tight end Christian Kizer with a jump pass into the end zone to put the Panthers in front for good.
“We put in a new tempo called NASCAR, and it works pretty well in two-minute, [offense]” Welch said. “We want them on their heels and we want to get going, and Das made a big throw to Trevell [Carpenter, after Smith’s gain] and of course a flag that hasn’t been thrown in, how long, and we didn’t fold. We stuck with it.
“Give credit to coach [Jon] Schlemmer and Sterling. They made us earn it. Christian Kizer called that touchdown play. He said, ‘Why not Pop, we haven’t done it yet.’ And you’ve got to trust your seniors, trust their instincts.”
Sterling fumbled the ensuing kickoff, with UT recovering, and the Panthers were able to kneel down to run off the final 20 seconds.
Fumbles also cost Sterling on the first two drives of the second half. The Golden Warriors reached the Panthers’ 21 with the opening drive of the third quarter, only to fumble. The next drive reached the UT 10 before a bad snap was picked up by the Panthers’ Simon Wilson-Bahoun.
“We had a nice drive, put the ball on the ground, had a nice drive, put the ball on the ground,” Schlemmer said. “Those kinds of things, they really bit us later on with the turnovers, turning the ball over too many times and too many penalties. Those kinds of things carried through, and it was tough.”
Sterling gained 404 rushing yards on 43 carries in the game, with Noel Aponte picking up 195 on 17 carries, and Jahshawn Howard gaining 190 on 17 carries.
Aponte, pressed into service on Monday as the Golden Warriors’ quarterback with both Kael Ryan and Drew Kested out of action, completed the first four passes he attempted and finished the game 5-for-7 passing for 108 yards.
But as much offense as Aponte and Howard could muster, Smith surpassed it. On 34 carries, he gained 346 yards and scored four touchdowns, finishing the six-game season with 1,418 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns.
“He’s just really good,” Schlemmer said. “He runs really hard, and we knew he ran really hard. I think they have a good offensive line. [Wilson-Bahoun] is as good an offensive lineman as we’ve seen in this league in a long time. They were good, and they have a good scheme and they’re coached up well. At times we thought we had them, and they came back.”
For much of the first half, neither defense could get a stop.
Smith put the Panthers on the board on the first play of the game with a 65-yard score.
Sterling answered with an 11-play drive Aponte capped off with a 4-yard keeper.
UT got its quarterback in on the scoring on its next drive, as Geadeyan found the end zone on a 39-yard scramble.
Then Sterling broke open the big plays, as Howard went 58 yards on the first play of the ensuing drive and scored from 11 yards out on the second play.
Sterling nearly had a defensive stop on United Township’s third drive, buoyed by a series of unsportsmanlike conduct calls to force the Panthers into a fourth and 30. But a flag for roughing the punter gave UT a first down, and Smith turned that into a touchdown five plays later.
Sterling answered when Aponte scrambled before dumping a pass off to Nate Ottens, who raced 46 yards up the sideline for a score.
“I got away from a sack and felt pressure on my back,” Aponte said. “I came out and [Ottens] was downfield. He was wide open.”
Sterling’s defense came up with stops on the next two Panther drives, and the Warriors followed those stops with scores. Howard broke off a 67-yard touchdown run, giving the Warriors their first lead of the night, and Sterling went 62 yards in eight plays just before halftime to set up a 22-yard Luis Diaz field goal.
Smith scored on the Panthers’ first two drives of the second half, a 5-yard run and a 41-yard run, putting the Panthers in front 34-31, but Sterling scored on its next two drives. Aponte took a quarterback keeper 46 yards for a score. On the first play of the ensuing Panthers’ drive, Farnham sacked Geadeyan and forced a fumble, which he recovered at the United Township 10, and Howard scored two plays later to put Sterling in front 44-34.
UT (4-2) responded with a 14-play, 65-yard drive capped off by Geadeyan finding Dakari Baldwin for a touchdown, then held Sterling to a three-and-out to set up the final drive.
The loss snaps Sterling’s 12-game Western Big 6 winning streak, the sixth-longest winning streak in league history that encompassed the Golden Warriors’ first 12 league games as a member of the Western Big 6.
With the win, United Township, whose Week 3 win snapped a 47-game conference losing streak, for years a program slogging through one- and two-win seasons, ends the short spring campaign on a four-game winning streak.
“It means a lot,” Smith said. “It gives us momentum to keep doing it every year, without us or with us.”