STERLING – Forcing turnovers isn’t what wins games. It’s what you do with those takeaways that makes the difference between wins and losses.
On Friday night, it was the Sterling Golden Warriors who excelled at the latter in their conference opener at Sterling Chevrolet Field at Roscoe Eades Stadium.
Sterling turned three of LaSalle-Peru’s four turnovers into touchdowns, and limited the damage on its four turnovers in a 21-10 victory.
“All week, the coaches told us to limit our mistakes and then take advantage of theirs,” Sterling junior Rafael Escalante said. “That’s what we did. We got our offense going in the second half, our defense shut them down, and we got a big win.”
Sterling’s scores were seemingly gift-wrapped by a Cavalier team whose colors remind one of Christmas.
The first was a particularly strange play, as Escalante was waiting to down a punt inside the LP 5-yard line.
As Escalante got behind the bouncing ball near the goal line, LP return man Logan Zeman inexplicably touched the ball. Escalante jumped on it for the recovery, and Byrant Lilly scored on Sterling’s next play from 4 yards out.
“I was just doing my job, getting behind the ball so it wouldn’t go in the end zone,” Escalante said. “I was as surprised as anybody at what happened.”
The Cavaliers (1-4, 0-1 NIB-12 West) answered right back with a 10-play, 90-yard touchdown drive, highlighted by a 42-yard pass play from Colby Sassano to Damion Allen.
But Sterling (3-2, 1-0) forced a punt after a Lilly interception, and the Warriors ran out the rest of the half on a 14-play, 57-yard drive to the LP 13-yard line. The drive as aided by a fake punt conversion and an LP offsides on fourth-and-short, but ended with a missed field goal as time expired.
The Cavs fumbled the opening kickoff of the second half, but a bad snap on a field goal attempt kept the score tied at 7. After an LP punt, Sterling fumbled the ball, then the Cavs fumbled it right back, and Lilly scored from 12 yards out for a 14-7 lead.
LP put together a 9-play, 55-yard drive that ended with a Jon Sydlowski 27-yard field goal, then Sterling threw interceptions on back-to-back drives, both deep forays into Cavalier territory.
But the Cavs punted after the first pick, then coughed the ball up on another bizarre play after the second.
On first-and-10 from its own 7, LP ran a halfback pass play. But running back Taylor Thompson was tackled in the end zone by Joe Brouilette when he stopped to make the pass.
“I thought it was another jet sweep, but then he stopped on the designed pass play,” Brouilette said. “I saw a chance to make a big play, and I tackled him before he could get rid of the ball for what I thought was a safety.”
Instead, Alex Soriano saw the ball bouncing near the back of the end zone and jumped on it, giving the Warriors a 21-10 lead with 5 minutes left in the game.
“We definitely weren’t expecting that play, and I couldn’t believe the ball was just bouncing there in front of me,” Soriano said. “We blitzed the gaps a lot in the second half, and it paid off that time. Joe made a monster hit, I saw the loose ball and just grabbed it.”
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Brandon Dennis (12 rushes, 65 yards), Draque Penaflor-Heier (11 rushes, 52 yards) led the ground game, and Lilly added 36 yards on 20 rushes. He also threw for 118 yards on 11-for-24 passing, with Soriano (2 catches, 49 yards), Logan Cheshire (7 catches, 45 yards) and Jacob Kirchhoff (2 catches, 24 yards) each catching multiple passes.
Sassano finished 10-for-23 passing for 201 yards, and hit six different receivers. However, the Cavaliers rushed for minus-26 yards in the second half, and finished with just 20 yards in the game on the ground.
“Our No. 1 priority is taking care of the football, and we didn’t do that tonight,” LP coach Joe Sassano said. “Our No. 2 priority is getting takeaways, and then taking advantage of them … and we didn’t do that, either. We moved the ball, made some big plays, but we couldn’t finish with touchdowns.”
Sterling 21, LaSalle-Peru 10
Key performers: Joe Brouilette, Sterling, TFL & forced fumble on clinching TD; Alex Soriano, Sterling, 49 yards receiving, fumble recovery for TD; Rafael Escalante, Sterling, fumble recover to set up first TD; Colby Sassano, LP, 201 yards passing