Princeton needed a replacement for St. Bede, which is leaving the Three Rivers Conference in favor of the new Chicago Prairie Football League next season and the Tri-County Conference for all other sports.
Sterling lost its Week 5 opponent when Rock Island Alleman announced this week it would not be fielding a varsity team this fall because of a lack of players.
It proved to be a perfect match.
The Golden Warriors will play at Princeton on Friday, Sept. 22. Both teams were quarterfinalists last year, Sterling in Class 5A and Princeton in 3A.
It will be the first meeting between the former NCIC rivals in 74 years. They last met in 1949 with the Golden Warriors winning 19-6. Sterling holds a 6-2 series edge.
The dominoes started to fall with Alleman’s announcement and went down rather quickly.
“That day, I had some correspondence with [Sterling] coach [Jon] Schlemmer and just asked if they’d be interesting in playing, and he said they’d love to do that. About two days later, it came to fruition,” Princeton coach Ryan Pearson said. “Bottom line, most important thing was our kids had a game. After COVID, it broke my heart to see the kids not get the season that they felt they deserved. I’m just glad it all worked out.”
Schlemmer was happy to get the call from his Princeton counterpart.
“Coach Pearson reached out about a possible open week that matched up with what we have. It all happened extremely quick,” Schlemmer said. “We are excited about the opportunity to play a game close to home against a really good program who has some darn good players. Should be a fun atmosphere.”
Princeton, with an enrollment now under 500, went 11-1 last year, falling to eventual 3A state champ IC Catholic Prep 27-20 in overtime in the quarterfinals.
Sterling, which has an enrollment of 988, advanced to the 5A quarterfinals last year, falling to Sycamore 28-0 and finishing 9-3.
“This was kind of a cool thing,” Pearson said. “We got the chance to play a perennial 5A power. It will be a great gauge to see where our kids are.
“I know our kids are going to compete. Win or lose the ballgame, we’re going to find out where we are as a team. It’s going to be fun. Hopefully, it’s a matchup of two 4-0 teams, and that will add to the excitement even more.”
Some other Three Rivers teams also have been able to pick up replacements for St. Bede.
Alleman’s cancellation also led to Mendota being able to match up with Geneseo for Week 7.
Hall will play Chillicothe IVC to fill its Week 6 opening.
Kewanee landed Aurora Central Catholic for Week 9.
Newman athletic director said the Comets had picked up Ridgeview-Lexington for its Week 4 replacement, but has since been informed that they have to start their search again. Ridgeview-Lexington will now need to honor a conference game with Fisher, which did not field a team last year and was believed Fisher to be playing 8-man this year.
Bureau Valley coach Mat Pistole, however, said the Storm have not been able to find a replacement for St. Bede.