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Rivalry game will have playoff implications

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Preview stories for football games between Sterling and Geneseo have probably started pretty much the same way for the last 30 years or so. 

This is a big rivalry. The winner will likely win the conference. 

That's basically it. 

When the Maple Leafs come to Sterling on Friday, much of that is still true. The Golden Warriors need to win to keep pace with the Ottawa Pirates. Geneseo needs to win to keep its name in the NIB-12 West race hopes.

But there is another component to this year's skirmish. With three games left, each team needs this win to help secure a playoff spot. 

The Golden Warriors come in at 4-2. A win makes them playoff eligible with games remaining against Dixon (0-6) and Ottawa (6-0).

Geneseo has a 3-3 record with games against Streator (0-6) and LaSalle-Peru (2-4) left on the schedule. A loss would force the Leafs into a situation where they could end up 5-4. That's the same record they had last season when they fell just short of qualifying for the playoffs. 

"Going back years and years, the conference has gone through Sterling or Geneseo," Sterling coach John Schlemmer said. "It's true this year with Ottawa being in there, too." 

"Neither of us want to be in that 5-4 position," Schlemmer said. "It adds to this game. We want this win, knowing that we have two qualify opponents left. We're sitting at 4-2, and know that we need to bring it each week." 

Teams with six wins automatically qualify for the playoffs. Teams with five wins are eligible, but qualifying depends on the number of wins by a team's opponents. 

Geneseo and Sterling both play Dixon, LaSalle-Peru and Streator in the NIB-12 West. Those three teams account for two total wins. In fact, Sterling has five teams on its schedule that account for just six wins. All nine of its opponents have a total of 26 right now. The Maple Leafs' opponents had 39 wins in 2011 when they missed the playoffs.  

"We know that they need this win," Sterling lineman Willie McCormick said. "We need it, too, to keep our place in the conference. It's all going to come down to the team with the most heart. Both teams are going to give it their all, and whoever has the most will win." 

Sterling opened the NIB-12 West slate with wins over LaSalle-Peru and Streator. The Warriors did not leave either game feeling great about their performances. 

"We've played well for a half," Schlemmer said. "One game the first half, the other game the second half, but we haven't done it for all four quarters. We'll have to do it on Friday to have a chance." 

Geneseo lost last week to undefeated Ottawa 35-14. The Pirates jumped out to a quick 21-0 lead, but Geneseo rallied to make it 21-14.

Jumping out early like that will be key for the Warriors. 

"That's not something we've done a lot this season," Schlemmer said. "Geneseo has had trouble with it, too. If we can get their offense off the field and have a few long drives, that would be huge."

The Sterling defense will need to stop quarterback Luke Snyder, who has 307 rushing yards and 214  passing yards. Rayce Singbush leads the team in rushing yards with 493. 

"The quarterback Snyder does a lot of things for them," McCormick said. "We have to key on him to slow them down." 

Sterling has won four of the last five meetings, and leads the overall series 25-21.

The Warriors have also won the last two meetings, but have not beat Geneseo three times in a row since 1994-1995. The teams played twice in 1994 – once in the regular season and again in the playoffs.  

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday

Where: Roscoe Eades Stadium

Radio: 94.3 FM

Twitter: Follow Christopher Heimerman (@Cheimerman_SVM) for live updates

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