STERLING – The talk about the Sterling Golden Warriors heading into this season was about the talent returning on defense.
After Saturday's 42-28 upset win over No. 9-ranked Metamora at Roscoe Eades Stadium, the buzz will be about the Warriors' big play offense.
Sterling (1-0) had four touchdown plays of 40 or more yards. The first was the 40-yard touchdown that Draque Penaflor-Heier scored on Friday night before the game was postponed because of lightning.
On Saturday, Penaflor-Heier didn't waste any time making another impact.
With the score tied at 7, Penaflor-Heier took a handoff on the second play after the game resumed up the middle of the field. He didn't stop until he reached the end zone 91 yards later.
"We got a chance to watch the tape from last night this morning," Penaflor-Heier said. "And coach showed me that there was a hole on the back cut that we could take advantage of.
"I needed a break after that run. Coach knew it. It was an amazing way to start with that long of a run."
Penaflor-Heier finished with 179 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
The Redbirds (0-1) wasted no time answering. They took less than 3 minutes to go 66 yards, and capped the drive with a 5-yard TD plunge by Zach Rohrbach.
The quick-strike Warriors went right back to work. Two plays on offense got them to their own 46, and that's when Bryant Lilly dropped back and lofted a pass down the sideline for 54-yard touchdown pass to Logan Wharff.
"We watched the tape, and I told the linemen if they could give me one more second," Lilly said. "When you have a guy like Logan out there who is a beast, you just have to throw it up there, and you know he's going to get under it."
"We were able to run whatever routes we wanted out there," Wharff said. "It's really all about Bryant. Last year we had Tanner [Morse]. He could run really well and threw good, but Bryant has a bigger arm. He can really throw the ball a long way."
Sterling went into halftime leading 21-14. They went up 27-14 in the third quarter on Penaflor-Heier's 1-yard touchdown run. The extra point attempt failed.
Metamora then grabbed the momentum, using a 4-minute drive to pull within six points at 27-21.
A 3-and-out by Sterling, and Metamora went back to work, driving all the way down to the 12-yard line before stalling out and turning the ball over on downs.
"This game is all about momentum, and our defense gave us it right there," Wharff said.
"I was screaming from the sideline," Penaflor-Heier said. "I almost lost my voice. I was rooting on the defense to come up with the stop."
Sterling took advantage, as Lilly and Wharff connected on a nifty 48-yard touchdown pass. Wharff had the defensive back turned around on an out-pattern. When he caught the ball, the defender had no clue, and Wharff was heading toward the end zone by the time he realized Wharff had the ball.
On the first play of the ensuing Metamora drive, Brandon Dennis intercepted Nick Holman and rumbled all the way down to the 5-yard line. Three plays later, Lilly hit Wharff on a fade to the corner of the end zone to put Sterling up 42-21.
Wharff finished with four receptions for 109 yards.
"This was a game that meant a lot to us," Lilly said. "We knew we were the underdogs, and we wanted to prove that belonged out here and that we were the better team."