STERLING – Brandon Dennis didn’t mince words while describing what preserving the shutout meant in Sterling’s 38-0 victory over Dixon on Friday at A.C. Bowers Field.
“It was awesome,” the Sterling sophomore defensive back said. “The shutout just closed the deal, especially with them leaving next year.”
Barring an early departure from the Northern Illinois Big 12 West, Dixon (0-8, 0-4 NIB-12 West) will see Sterling one more time before joining the Big Northern West. But, just in case, the Golden Warriors laid the lumber on their Route 2 rivals for nearly 3 hours Friday night.
The Golden Warriors (6-2, 4-0) capitalized on a failed fake punt that gave them the ball at the Dixon 19 midway through the first quarter, senior Cornell Hartz scoring virtually untouched on the next play.
In the closing seconds of the first quarter, junior Draque Penaflor-Heier kick-started a big night by breaking free up the middle and scoring from 48 yards away to make it 14-0 after the Salomon Ocampo extra point with 15.6 on the clock.
Penaflor-Heier had a game-high 132 yards on just 10 carries.
“After having a big sophomore year, I wanted to show people that I came to play and that football’s in my heart,” Penaflor-Heier said.
Dixon’s next two drives stalled in the red zone. Justin White (13 carries, 48 yards; 7 receptions, 43 yards) returned the following kickoff 80 yards to the Sterling 10, but Dixon turned it over on downs. Their next drive ended in far more jarring of fashion. On fourth-and-goal from the 12, Dennis put an absolute snot-knocking hit on Joe Krivak along the right sideline for a 2-yard loss.
“I just want to secure the tackle at that point, and not make a big hit necessarily,” Dennis said. “I’m not looking to do something spectacular. But sometimes when you do that, the big hit is gonna happen.”
Hartz, who had 72 yards on 11 carries, caught a fourth-and-7 pass from Tanner Morse just past the sticks along the left sideline, spun out of Matt Coffey’s grasp and picked up a block to score from 33 yards out with 3:23 elapsed in the third.
Two drives later, Morse ran in from 15 yards out. Sterling outgained Dixon 232-70 on the ground and truly found its groove in the second half.
“We needed to play more as a whole unit,” Penaflor-Heier said. “We weren’t going 100 percent. Finally we came out and finished strong.”
Hartz scored his third TD after a pass interference call nullified an interception by Coffey. On the next play, Hartz spun through the middle of the defense. Upon completing his 360, he saw Coffey and shrugged him off to score from 15 yards out. The Dukes committed 14 penalties for 119 yards.
Ocampo tacked on a 22-yard field goal on the next drive with 2:09 left.
JD Gieson (16-for-30 passing, 93 yards) marched the Dukes into scoring range, but time ran out with the ball at the Sterling 37.
“After the first half, we really had to focus on our blocking on offense, but on defense we wanted to say strong,” Dennis said.