STERLING – The United Township Panthers (1-8) dealt the first blow in Friday night’s Western Big 6 regular-season finale against the Sterling Golden Warriors at Roscoe Eades Stadium, as Korey Randle returned the opening kickoff 90 yards for a 6-0 lead 13 seconds into the game. But the Warriors quickly found their counterpunch, rolling to a 63-33 win over the Panthers.
After falling behind on the first play of the game, the Warriors rattled off nine straight touchdown drives.
“We just used that as motivation,” Sterling running back Antonio Tablante said of the kickoff return touchdown. “We knew something like that would come out happening, but we just used that as motivation and stuck through it the rest of the game.”
“Let’s go block this PAT, and then let’s respond right back with seven,” Sterling quarterback Kael Ryan said of the team’s mentality after falling behind right away.
The Warriors (7-2) needed only 50 seconds to take the lead themselves, using a two-play, 67-yard scoring drive to go ahead 7-6. Ryan opened the drive with a 10-yard run off right tackle, then faked a draw to Tablante on the next play and took it down the right sideline for a 57-yard score.
Sterling scored a touchdown on its next possession at the 6:05 mark of the first quarter, taking a 14-6 lead. Javier Luna forced a fumble and AJ Kested recovered at the Sterling 42 on the ensuing UT possession to give the offense short field. Ryan ignited the scoring drive with a 40-yard run on a quarterback power. Two plays later, he ran in his second touchdown from 4 yards out.
The Warriors forced a turnover on downs on fourth-and-13 on the next UT possession, taking over offensively at their own 17; Sterling scored its third touchdown for a 21-6 lead with 26.1 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
The 83-yard scoring drive culminated in a 1-yard Tablante touchdown run.
“I think we took last week personal when [Moline] kind of dominated us up front, and we decided we weren’t going to let that happen again,” Ryan said. “And our front five did a really good job tonight.”
A Ryan keeper off the left side went for a 30-yard TD, pushing the Sterling lead to 28-6 with 10:10 to play in the half.
“That’s just Kael Ryan playing like Kael Ryan,” Tablante said. “I expected it 100% out of him. That’s just how he plays, and I love him for that.”
Isaiah Mendoza picked off a pass on the ensuing UT possession, returning it 11 yards to the UT 49, and Sterling scored a few plays later.
A 39-yard Cale Ledergerber catch-and-run on a Ryan bubble screen moved the Warriors to the UT 1-yard line; Tablante ran in the touchdown off left tackle the next play, and Sterling seized a 35-6 lead with 6:44 to play in the half.
UT came back with a touchdown of its own on the next possession, capping the scoring drive with a 16-yard far-hash dart from Matthew Kelley to Randle on a corner route. That play cut the deficit to 35-12 with 3:03 left in the half.
Sterling countered UT once again on the ensuing drive, using a 48-yard Kested scamper, then a 1-yard Kested TD run to pull ahead 42-12 at the 2:10 mark.
“We’ve just got so many dudes who can do it,” Ryan said. “Some teams give the ball to one guy 40 times, but we can give it to five different guys, and we can throw screens and we can throw deep, and we can do all these things. It’s awesome.”
UT scored once more before the break as Randle wrestled a ball away from a cornerback in the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown. That play brought the Panthers within 42-19 with 1:03 in the half.
Tablante set up the final touchdown of the half with a 54-yard breakaway run down the right sideline, then ran in a 2-yard touchdown one play later for a 49-19 lead as 43.5 seconds remained. That was the score at halftime.
The Warriors came out firing to start the second half, chewing up 35 yards on a Ryan keeper, then scoring on a 30-yard run after Tablante shed a tackle and outraced a pair of defenders for a 56-19 lead 44 seconds in.
Sterling scored its final touchdown a little less than four minutes later.
After jumping an out-breaking route for an interception near midfield, Ryan capitalized on his own takeaway a few plays later, hitting a wide-open Joseph Marchiorato over the middle for a 26-yard touchdown. The touchdown pass was Sterling’s final score of the game, and it came with 7:20 left in the third. The Warriors pulled their starters after the quick third-quarter scoring drive, leading 63-19.
A Kelley keeper went for a 6-yard score on the next drive, pulling the Panthers within 63-26 as 1:36 remained in the third; UT running back David Adedze ran in the final score of the game from 15 yards out with 2:32 to remaining.
Sterling piled up 564 yards of total offense, including 455 rushing in the game.
“We just followed our assignments, did what we were taught during practice, and we watched a lot of film this week,” Tablante said, attributing credit for the prolific rushing attack.
Ryan accounted for four total touchdowns – three rushing and one passing – rushed for 241 yards on 14 carries (17.2 yards per carry), went 7 for 8 passing with 109 yards, and intercepted a pass on defense. Tablante piled up 150 yards and four scores on 11 carries (13.6 yards per carry), while Kested added 56 rushing yards and a touchdown on four carries for the Warriors.
Ledergerber was the leading Sterling receiver, catching three passes for 55 yards.
Kelley passed for 248 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for another score. Randle was his top target, catching eight passes for 117 yards and two touchdowns.
“It was a nice bounce-back after a tough loss last week in the conference championship, but from now on we’re getting ready for the playoffs,” Tablante said.