A rendezvous with Geneseo isn't exactly what the doctor ordered for a football team that is reeling.
Nevertheless, that is what lies ahead for Sterling as it prepares for a crucial road date with the Maple Leafs on Friday night.
The implications are many. Geneseo (5-1, 2-0 Northern Illinois Big 12 West) is already in the driver's seat as far as the league title is concerned. It is the lone NIB-12 West team without a conference loss, and will be a huge favorite in Weeks 8 and 9, road games against Streator and LaSalle-Peru.
This week's game figures to be the last significant road block on the way to a league title for the Maple Leafs.
Sterling (3-3, 1-1), meanwhile, is eager to put a Week 6 disaster in its rearview mirror. Streator (1-5, 1-1) is getting out of the NIB-12 West after this season due in part to its inability to be competitive in football.
For 1 week, however, the Bulldogs didn't look the part, as they put together a shocking 21-2 victory against the Golden Warriors. It was Sterling's first loss to Streator since 2003, and not easy to take.
"There was a combination of a lot of different emotions," senior two-way lineman Josh Knie said, "because we just do not lose to them. It happened, and we have to come back from it."
The bounce back may be made somewhat easier in that it's Geneseo week. The Maple Leafs and Warriors have traditionally resided either on or near the top of the league standings, and the winner of the game usually gets at least a piece of the conference title. This year will be no different.
"Our goal at the beginning of the year was to win conference," Knie said, "and our goal is still there."
Geneseo will present its usual problems. It still uses the Wing-T offense and 5-2 defense that has given its opponents fits for decades. This year's defense, with just 52 points allowed through six games, looks particularly formidable.
"I don't think they are going to trick us," Sterling coach Jon Schlemmer said, "and they have no reason to. They have been very successful, and they are very good at what they do. It's up to our kids to stay within our game plan, play assignment football, and trust yourself and your teammates for 48 minutes."
The top threat for the Maple Leafs is senior running back Rayce Singbush, who has 55 carries for 551 yards and nine touchdowns. He is also the team's top receiver, with six catches for 137 yards and one score.
Brandon Mizlo (53-451, 3 TDs), Ryan Webster (35-275, 8 TDs) and Luke Snyder (33-190, 4 TDs) are the other top running threats.
Snyder is the quarterback, and he has completed 15 of 30 passes for 207 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception.
If Sterling can pull out a win, a conference title is back in play. A loss, and the Warriors are scrambling for a playoff spot, with wins against Dixon and Ottawa the next 2 weeks a must.
"They've been challenged, and they know they've been challenged," Schlemmer said. "They know they don't have many more guaranteed, so they have to go out and make the most of it when they have a chance."
Sterling will regain the services of its top offensive threat, Logan Wharff, after missing 3 weeks due a team violation. He has 15 catches for 308 yards and five touchdowns in three games thus far.
Sterling at Geneseo
When: 7:30 Friday
Radio: 94.3 FM
Twitter: Brian Weidman (@brianweidman)