Well before fans, coaches, and officials whipped out their phones and became weather experts, Sterling’s defense looked like experts on the field.
The defensive line of Joe Brouilette, Brett Gould, Tanner Massey, Jason Wolber, Brady Hall, and Kyler Beck got pressure into the backfield on nearly every snap in the first half.
Those players, a rotation that coach Jon Schlemmer used to keep them fresh, dicated the pace of the game. Metamora received the openeing kick to a deafening roar from a fan base that had been spoiled in recent seasons with state championships in 2007 and 2009, and strong play from its traditionally smash-mouth football team, only to hand it over to Sterling.
The Golden Warriors brought the physicality from the first snap. After the Redbirds grabbed 4 yards on a stretch run play, the Warriors got into the backfield and forced a fumble.
Jacob Heffelfinger hit scrambling Metamora quarterback Nick Holman, and stripped the ball and recovered the fumble.
“It was great to play like that from the start,” Massey said. “It really gets the team going from the start.”
The Warriors gave Metamora a geography lesson Friday night, sticking the Redbirds in a sliver of their home field, and reaped the benefits of good field position.
Six plays and 23 yards after the first fumble, Warriors quarterback Sterling Thornton got into the end zone for an eventual 7-0 lead.
Despite what the weather did to many games in the Sauk Valley and elsewhere, Sterling made sure football was back, at least for the first half.
The defensive backs kept the passing game in check, and filtered down into the box when Metamora went with its big formations. With lightning dancing around in the sky like cameras flashing, Sterling danced around on the field.
The Warriors looked fast and physical. The defense had three takeaways in the first half. On the Redbirds’ second possesion, Sterling forced a punt, and on the third play of Metamora’s next drive, Logan Cheshire picked off Holman.
So much attention is paid to offenses because scoring is exciting. But it was the defense that kept the Warriors close throughout.
The offense was muddled by protection issues. The Warriors ran a lot of designed quarterback rushes, and Sterling Thornton had to be aware of the Metamora linebackers.
On jet sweeps and other outside run plays, the Redbirds’ outside linebackers would find a way into the play to stop potential big gains.
“It’s just a matter of being able to read that linebacker,” Thornton said. “It’s something that will come with playing more at full speed, and something that we can fix.”
Running back Brandon Dennis said that since Sterling likes to run the ball, timing is everything.
“The holes were definitely there,” Dennis said. “Then they would disapear. It’s just going to take time with the timing, and knowing when to hit those holes.”
The defensive display wasn’t without cost.
For the second consecutive season, Warriors defensive back Ty Shetter suffered a serious injury that will likely see him missing time.
He was on crutches on the sideline before being wheeled off in a wheelchair with an apparent knee injury. Schlemmer hopes that it will be just a few weeks.
Shetter was injured in Week 2 last season, and missed the rest of the year.
“I really hope this is something that he can come back from,” Schlemmer said. “It just breaks my heart to see him like that. He worked so hard in the weight room and in practices to get himself back to a high level.”