STERLING – If this whole football thing doesn’t work out for the Sterling Golden Warriors, they’ve got a future in improvisation.
Two of the biggest plays in Sterling’s 24-20 victory over Geneseo on Friday at Roscoe Eades Stadium came with the Warriors staring down fourth down. The latter was on fourth-and-4 late in the third quarter, Sterling (5-2, 3-0) trailing 14-13.
Senior quarterback Tanner Morse didn’t see the Peter Haglund snap coming, and it sailed past him. He scrambled right, leaving a trail of Leafs in his wake, and threw a pass moments before stepping out of bounds. Logan Wharff used every inch of his 5-foot-9 frame to stretch out and snare the ball with his fingertips. Just for good measure, he somehow got down both feet in bounds.
“He’s got great athleticism, and he’ll go up and catch any ball I throw to him,” Morse said.
The play was designed to be a run.
“I saw the snap go over his head and my corner kind of left me, the free safety came over the top, and I just tried to work back to the ball,” Wharff said. “You’ve just got to roll with it sometimes and see what happens.”
With 9:24 left in the game, Morse – on a second effort – dove and reached the pylon from 3 yards out. He hit Temo Barron for the conversion, making it 21-14. Geneseo (3-4, 1-2) went three-and-out, and Sterling took over in Leafs territory for the fourth time. The Warriors moved the ball from the 34 to the 19 in six plays and Salomon Ocampo, who’d missed from 23 yards and an extra point, kicked a 36-yard field goal that cleared the cross bar by about 3 yards with 4:33 left.
“That means, even though I’ve had two mistakes, my coach has faith in me,” Ocampo said. “It took a lot of guts for him, obviously. As a kicker, I’ve always got to continue forward. Even though you miss, you’ve got to continue looking forward.”
Geneseo used two pass interference calls and about 2 minutes to score on a 12-play, 65-yard drive, capped by a QB sneak by Luke Snyder. Sterling couldn’t achieve a first down to put it away immediately, but Cornell Hartz picked off a desperation heave on fourth-and-20 to ice it.
Hartz was integral to the first sparkling improv of the night, on a fourth-and-7 play.
After scoring from 3 yards out with 5:14 left in the first, he threw the block on nose tackle Cameron Panicuccui that bought Morse enough time to hit Wharff for a 34-yard touchdown with 43.8 left in the first.
Morse rolled left away from a heavy rush and hollered at Hartz to go out for a pass. But, Hartz did a 180.
“I had to turn around and hit that guy and give him a little bit more time,” Hartz said.
Meanwhile, Wharff, who was knocked down by a linebacker on a slant, got back up and slipped behind the defense, allowing Morse to loft it into his hands down the left sideline.
Morse was 5-for-10 for 74 yards and rushed for 102 yards. His kneel-down on the last play was his 28th carry.
“Tanner did some special things tonight, and if people don’t know he’s a special player, they’re not watching the same game we are,” Sterling coach Jon Schlemmer said.
After Ocampo missed a field goal from 23 with 7:25 to play, wingback Rayce Singbush scored from 72 yards away.
Four minutes into the third and following a Sterling fumble, Singbush fumbled at the Sterling 4, and Scott Schulte picked it up to score. The point after gave Geneseo its first lead, 14-13 and, seemingly, all the momentum.
“We had some ups and downs and kind of rallied,” Wharff said.
“Since our first day together, this is the most proud of you guys I’ve ever been,” Schlemmer said to his team afterward.
Star of the game: Tanner Morse, 28 carries, 102 yards, TD, 5-for-10 passing, 74 yards, TD
Key performer: Cornell Hartz, 17 carries, 70 yards, TD, interception; Rayce Singbush, Geneseo, 11 carries, 108 yards, TD
Up next: Sterling at Dixon, 7:30 p.m. Friday