DIXON – Carlos Gallardo was nervous. Not because his Sterling Golden Warriors were down a goal early at A.C. Bowers Field against a pesky Dixon squad.
He was anxious because his last trip to that pitch ended with him breaking his collarbone while scoring a goal last season. But Thursday night, he managed to score the early equalizer and add another, both scot free, in Sterling's 6-1 Northern Illinois Big 12 West victory over the Dukes (6-9-1, 2-5-1).
"I just wanted to score and get some revenge pretty much," Gallardo said. "I just wanted to get them back for what they did."
The Warriors (17-2, 8-0) have won 12 straight matches, outscoring their opponents 70-11 during the tear.
The Dukes scored 7 minutes, 50 seconds into the match when Matt Kerr got behind the Sterling (17-2, 8-0) defense. A strong dribble allowed Sterling goalkeeper Jorge Garcia to come out, but he couldn't hold onto the 50/50 ball. Kerr tapped it back to Scott Heath, who sent a shot into the vacated net.
Just over 2 minutes later, Alfredo Lopez set up Gallardo off a corner.
"The ball came to me on a rebound and Carlos was right there to push the ball past the goalie," Lopez said.
Lopez scored less than 6 minutes later, with 23:51 left in the half. With 16:25 left, Dixon's freshman goalie Devin Attig got two hands on a Sterling corner kick but couldn't squeeze it. Gallardo swooped in to chip it home.
"I was like, 'This goal is mine,' " Gallardo said.
Dixon battened down the hatches until Tom Clemens was called for taking Pedro Ocampo down in the box with 16 minutes left in the match. Clemens threw his hands into the air in disbelief.
"In my opinion, I don't think it was a penalty," Dixon coach Mahmoud Etemadi said. "But good players, smart player know how to – I hate to say it – deceive the ref."
Ocampo showed off the twinkle toes before sending a low shot past Attig, who dove to his left but came up empty.
Daniel Navarro and Lopez scored in the waning minutes, despite the Dukes' focus on marking Lopez.
"They have so many weapons, that we don't know which one to mark," Etemadi said. "Today, our focus was to stop Lopez."
The Dukes wore pink socks to raise breast cancer awareness, and Kerr looked right at home, doing his best impression of the Energizer Bunny. He gave the Warriors fits with his hustle, creating most of the Dukes' few-and-far-between opportunities.
"He did catch us off-guard a few times," Sterling coach Keanu Interone said. "You can't fall asleep, or guys like [Kerr] are going to punish you."
Early in the second half, with his team within striking distance down two, Kerr slid just before going out of bounds along the back boundary and sent a gorgeous cross for Heath. But Lopez headed it away at the last moment.
"I was looking to see what would happen," Kerr said. "There's always holes in the defense, you've just gotta find them. Obviously, we didn't find them enough this game."
Attig – still playing in relief of Brandon Jagitsch, who's recovering from a concussion – made 14 saves, and the Dukes did a fine job taking away the Warriors' long ball.
"I'm alway really anxious about playing Dixon a second time, because Mahmoud is so good about analyzing the games and doing the right thing the second time around," Interone said. "And they were prepared for the long ball play."
As for getting Gallardo ready, Interone took a hands-off approach.
"I didn't talk to him," Interone said. "I didn't want to say anthing. If he had some nerves, I didn't want to bring them up. He looked relaxed out there."
Star of the match: Carlos Gallardo, Sterling, 2 goals
Key performers: Alfredo Lopez, Sterling, 2 goals; Matt Kerr, Dixon, 1 assist
Up next: Dixon at Ottawa, 4:30 p.m. Tuesday; LaSalle-Peru at Sterling, 6 p.m. Tuesday