STERLING – The Golden Warriors offense, save for a handful of plays, struggled to get going against the defense of No. 1 Chicago Phillips on Saturday afternoon.
The Warriors managed just one touchdown on offense, getting another from the defense, in a 27-14 loss in a Class 5A semifinal at Roscoe Eades Stadium.
In a battle of all-state running backs, Sterling’s Nyrel Sullivan was limited to 84 yards – 45 of those coming on one play – on 16 carries, while Phillips’ Craig Elmore carried 37 times for 155 yards.
Seven of Elmore’s carries were stopped for a loss, with 12 more stopped for minimal gain.
“We knew they wanted to run,” Sterling senior cornerback Turner Garcia said. “Our three goals the whole week were ‘Stop the run, stop the run, stop the run.’
“We did a really good job of that, so we made them pass,” Garcia continued. “We got an interception and we got some turnovers. We tried getting the ball loose.”
But Elmore broke off several longer runs, including a 30-yard gain just before halftime. In the second half as Phillips was trying to run down the clock, he converted several third downs in a row by keeping his feet moving and gaining yards after contact.
“The team has one goal: to get back to state,” Elmore said. “All the little things add up. Getting past the sticks on third-and-short, that’s one of those little things.”
Turnovers proved costly for Sterling. In addition to turning the ball over on downs four times in the game, a pair of turnovers set up Phillips deep in Warriors territory.
A Breon Holmes interception in the first quarter set up Phillips at the Warriors’ 19-yard line, and Phillips cashed in eight plays later with a 7-yard touchdown pass from J’Bore Gibbs to Jahleel Billingsley.
Another interception reeled in by Anthony Davis in the third quarter gave Phillips (13-0) the ball at Sterling’s 8, and Gibbs carried it himself for a score two plays later.
That was Gibbs’ second rushing touchdown of the afternoon. He capped off the previous Phillips drive with a 14-yard scramble and dive over the goal line. Those two scores on the ground by Gibbs were in addition to a pair of touchdown passes.
Sterling (12-1) went into halftime with a 7-6 lead, thanks to a 45-yard touchdown pass from Trey Morse to Nolan Sullivan.
“There was no free safety, so we just threw it up to Sullivan,” Morse said. “He was able to run under it and there was a lot of green grass.”
That was Morse’s only completion of the first half.
Sterling had three consecutive second-half drives reach Phillips territory, and got no points from them.
The Warriors had an 11-play, 67-yard drive reach the Wildcats’ 12 late in the third quarter thanks to a fake punt. Jayden Villegas pulled the ball back on fourth-and-6 and threw to Garcia in the flat for a 24-yard gain, as Garcia caught the ball inches from the turf and raced past the first-down marker.
“All the guys make fun of me because I don’t have the best hands,” Garcia said. “I don’t know how I caught it, but I caught it and I just turned around and tried to run as fast as I can.”
The drive stalled as Phillips caught first Nyrel Sullivan, then Morse in the backfield for losses, and Morse threw a pair of incomplete passes.
Sterling got to the Phillips 20 on its next drive before Elmore sacked Morse on fourth down. Sterling’s next drive reached just over midfield before a punt.
The Golden Warriors offense managed just 192 yards from scrimmage.
“They’re just a really good football team,” Sterling coach Jon Schlemmer said. “They did really good things offensively, defensively. They give you so many tough looks. I thought our kids played extremely hard, they just came up short.”
The Warriors’ defense came through with a score in the third quarter when Villegas scooped up a fumble and carried it in from 10 yards out, but Phillips answered on its next offensive play, a 57-yard touchdown pass from Gibbs to Joseph Thompson.
Class 5A semifinal
Chicago Phillips 27, Sterling 14
Star of the game: Craig Elmore, Phillips, 37 carries, 155 yards, 1 sack
Key performers: Jayden Villegas, Sterling, 1 fumble return TD; J’Bore Gibbs 11-18, 141 yards, 2 TDs, 15 carries, 33 yards, 2 TDs; Marquez Williams, Sterling, 8 tackles; Isaiah Ryan, Sterling, 8 tackles.