METAMORA – All 22 helmets on the field looked to the sky as they watched the ball soar toward its target.
It was a lob pass that had a hump like a camel, and two Sterling defensive backs found their way to the landing zone. Unfortunatley for the Golden Warriors, that zone was in the arms of Metamora receiver Jacob Mitchell.
Mitchell completed the acrobatic catch and ran for the end zone, finishing a 60-yard play that capped the scoring as the Redbirds defeated the Warriors 29-14 at Malone Field.
“Those big plays kind of take the wind out of you,” Sterling lineman Tanner Massey said. “But we just have to learn to get right back at it.”
It was the defensive line that gave the Warriors hope on the score that put the game out of reach. The unit put pressure on Redbirds quarterback Nick Holman throughout the game, and got to him as he heaved the deep ball on third-and-18.
The Warriors (0-1) found themselves down a score, 22-14, with 3 minutes and change on the clock, and quarterback Sterling Thornton took control of the offense.
The Warriors started on their own 29 and were able to get two first downs in an 11-play drive. On a fourth-and-5, Thornton tucked the ball and ran when the designed pass play was sniffed out, and went for 5 yards.
Sterling opted to pass the next four plays, but all were dropped.
“It’s going to rain in games,” Thornton said. “People will say the ball was wet – it was a bit – but I have to be able to get a better grip on it and make better throws so the guys don’t have to reach for it.”
A lightning display followed by heavy rain delayed the game nearly 45 minutes before starting again, and the referees had numerous towels on the field wiping the ball after each play.
While Thornton took most of the blame, he and running back Brandon Dennis controlled the pace of the game offensively, but they lacked the big play.
Dennis ran the ball 26 times and gained positive yards on all of them, but finished with 34 yards on the ground. Thornton rushed 24 times and racked up 61 yards.
Metamora was also limited offensively, but came through on several big plays. Seven players ran the ball for the Redbirds (1-0), as they attempted to figure out the Warriors’ aggresive defensive line.
Eventually, Tim Brennan was able to find holes and pick up yards in chunks. He finished with 118 yards on 14 carries.
“That is going to happen,” Sterling coach Jon Schlemmer said. “We have to find a way to get our guys off the field. But if you look at what we did outside of those big plays, there are some positives to feed from.”
The Warriors had three defensive takeaways in the first half, including two fumble recoveries and an interception by Logan Cheshire when the defensive line hit Holman as he threw a pass to the sideline.
Sterling won the field position battle early, and took advantage of the short field as Thornton scored twice on 1-yard touchdown runs – one coming in each half. But the Warriors never found the end zone again, as the Redbirds were able to bottle up Thornton and Dennis.