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Sterling turnovers lead to loss to rival Maple Leafs

GENESEO – The Sterling football team’s bus broke down on the way to Geneseo on Friday.

The Golden Warriors did the same thing once the game started.

Sterling started with a pick-six 14 seconds into the game, and things didn’t improve much from there on the way to a 38-19 loss to the Maple Leafs at Bob Reade Field. The bus breakdown happened near Morrison, and resulted in only about a 20-minute delay, but not much went right for the Warriors upon their arrival in Geneseo.

The Maple Leafs led 38-6 after opening the second half with a touchdown, and were never in much danger. Turnovers on Sterling’s first two possessions led directly to 10 Geneseo points, and the Golden Warriors finished with four turnovers overall.

“You can’t turn the ball over against teams like that,” Sterling coach Jon Schlemmer said. “We turned the ball over too many times tonight, and we didn’t get off the field when we needed a good play defensively.”

The most damaging of the mistakes came on the game’s first offensive play. A Bryant Lilly pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted by Geneseo linebacker Ryan Pitra, who took it in from 36 yards for the score.

“That first turnover, I really think that took some of the wind out of us,” senior Logan Wharff said.

Geneseo (6-1, 3-0 NIB-12 West) put the game on ice by scoring three straight times in the second quarter, on TD runs of 28 yards by Ryan Webster and 66 yards from Lane Akre, then a diving 13-yard TD reception by Drew Himmelman just before halftime.

Akre finished the game with 20 carries for 190 yards – gaudy statistics for a player who entered the game with four carries for 17 yards. He took over at fullback when starter Brandon Mizlo suffered a sprained ankle on Geneseo’s first play.

“It was unfortunate for [Brandon] to get hurt, but I was glad to get the opportunity to go in and help my team out,” Akre said. “My offensive line was awesome, and also the blocking backs. I don’t think we missed a single block tonight.”

A bright spot for the Golden Warriors (3-4, 1-2) was the return of Wharff, who had missed three games due to a team rules violation. He caught five passes for 104 yards, and also scored on a short run.

“It was great being out there with my teammates,” Wharff said. “Sitting out, there isn’t any worse feeling than watching my teammates play. We did some good things out there tonight, but we have to eliminate the bad things.”

Sterling had defeated Geneseo three consecutive times, but now the Maple Leafs have a clear path toward a league title and favorable playoff seed. They play at Streator and LaSalle-Peru the next 2 weeks.

“Anytime you win a rivalry game against an opponent that quite honestly we’ve had trouble with, it’s a big win,” Geneseo coach Larry Johnsen Jr. said. “We want to be conference champs, and we knew this would be a big game.”

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