JOHNSBURG – Ground and pound went by the wayside on Friday night in Johnsburg.
Instead, it was chuck and duck, and Sterling was good enough at it to avoid what could have been a very difficult defeat.
Senior quarterback Bryant Lilly passed for 293 yards and a pair of touchdowns, with Logan Wharff as his top target, and the Golden Warriors pulled out a 35-16 victory over the Skyhawks.
Sterling is now 2-0, while Johnsburg is 0-2 and a loser of 23 consecutive games.
“Desperate teams, they’re going to throw everything they have at you,” Wharff said. “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy.”
“They played hard, and they did what they had to do to try and win the game,” Sterling coach Jon Schlemmer said of Johnsburg. “Luckily, our kids kind of overcame and made some big plays.”
Neither team was able to muster up much of a ground attack. Sterling managed 67 yards on 29 attempts, and 49 of those came on a game-clinching TD by Draque Penaflor-Heier with 2 minutes, 11 seconds to play. Lilly was sacked four times by the Johnsburg defense.
“It’s fun when you get protection,” Lilly said, “but when you don’t, you just get hit, and it hurts. Your body’s open to throw it, and they just rock you.”
“We had to rely on that passing game tonight,” Schlemmer said. “Up front, at times we protected really well. At other times, we didn’t have enough time. That’s something we’ve got to shore up. Tonight, we struggled running the ball. We’ve got to go back to the drawing board, get back to fundamentals and do things right.”
Johnsburg, meanwhile, almost completely abandoned the run in the second half. The Skyhawks had just 10 rushes after halftime, with half of those coming in the final 2 minutes to bleed the clock.
Touchdown passes of 66 yards to Wharff and 16 yards to Alex Soriano in the second quarter staked Sterling to a 14-0 lead, but Johnsburg fought back.
A 35-yard field goal by Kevin Kordik got the Skyhawks on the board just before halftime, and a 23-yard pass from Nick Brengman to Alec Graef early in the third quarter made it 14-10.
A failed onside kick by Johns-burg, however, put Sterling in business at midfield, and Lilly later scored from a yard out to up the margin to 21-10.
Johnsburg had a long TD pass from Brengman to Ben Stillwell nullified by a penalty, and an interception by the Warriors’ Brian Folsom snuffed out a Skyhawks’ scoring threat with a minute left in the third quarter.
A long punt return by Penaflor-Heier set up a 1-yard plunge by reserve halfback Rafael Escalante and gave Sterling a 28-10 lead with 9:14 to play. Both teams tacked on TDs down the stretch.
Wharff finished with nine catches for 156 yards. He had 127 yards receiving last week against Metamora, and is believed to be the first Sterling player with back-to-back 100-yard receiving games.
“Bryant was looking for me the whole game,” Wharff said. “Their [defensive backs] didn’t give me the deep ball much, but we’ll pick up the short ones and do the best we can.”
Key performers: Bryant Lilly, Sterling, 293 yards passing, 2 TDs; Nick Brengman, Johnsburgh, 253 yards passing, 2 TDs