OTTAWA – Sterling picked a great time for its most complete game of the season. Now it has to hope it wasn’t too little, too late.
Draque Penaflor-Heier busted loose for a 46-yard touchdown on the third play of the game. The jet-quick senior added three more TDs and rushed for 195 yards in the Golden Warriors’ 38-13 romp in a must-win game Friday night at King Field.
The Warriors (5-4, 3-2 Northern Illinois Big 12 West) are playoff eligible with five wins, but are not guaranteed a playoff spot. That will be determined by five-win teams’ playoff points – oppenents’ wins – and Sterling’s might not be high enough to get in.
“I hope we can make the playoffs, but if not, we had the best game of our lives right here,” Penaflor-Heier said. “I told the guys at halftime, ‘This is our state. We’ve got to leave it all on the field. We have to want it more than they do.’”
The Warriors did what they needed to, and did it in impressive fashion.
Sterling piled up 310 yards on the ground and outgained Ottawa (3-6, 3-2) 343-270.
The Warriors forced five fumbles, recovering four, and won the turnover battle 4-1.
“We don’t know if this is our last game or not,” said Sterling senior quarterback/linebacker Bryant Lilly, who carried 16 times for 78 yards. “Us seniors, we’ve been playing together since fifth grade. We decided to play football the way we can. We played great. If we get in the playoffs, I think we’re going to do some damage.”
It took Sterling just 68 seconds to get on the scoreboard via Penaflor-Heier’s first TD.
The Pirates answered with a quick TD of their own, a 24-yard pass from Carter Krause to Cody Stokes, and it was 7-7 with 8:30 left in the first quarter.
Penaflor-Heier scored his second touchdown with 5:48 left in the first half, this one a 26-yarder set up by his own 22-yard jaunt, and Sterling led 14-7.
It stayed that way into the second half. Josh Knie’s fumble recovery at the Ottawa 19 set up a 2-yard TD by Penaflor-Heier to make it 21-7 with 6:58 left in the third quarter.
Sterling kicker Tony Diaz, who played in the Warriors’ soccer team’s postseason loss earlier in the day, hit a 28-yard field goal with 10:41 to play to make it 24-7.
Penaflor-Heier broke a 69-yard TD run with 4:43 to play, then Logan Wharff returned a fumble for a score on Ottawa’s next play from scrimmage, making it 38-7 with 4:31 left.
“I’m very, very proud of these kids the way they came out and performed,” Sterling coach Jon Schlemmer said.
“I give a lot of credit to the seniors for that. Growing up in Sterling, these kids expect to win. It means so much to these kids. If we would have played that well the whole year ... but, things happen.”
Key performers: Bryant Lilly, Sterling, 78 rushing yards; Caleb Smith, Ottawa, 70 rushing yards