STERLING – Hard times. We’ve all faced them.
On Saturday, Nyrel Sullivan faced hard times. The record-setting speedster for the previously undefeated Sterling Golden Warriors seemed to have at least one defensive lineman draped on his leg whenever he touched the ball, and when he did break through the line of scrimmage, the equally swift Anthony Davis was like his shadow, refusing to let Sullivan take it to the end zone.
“You get to this point of the season and everyone has seen what I like to do on tape,” Sullivan said after the Warriors’ 27-14 loss to Chicago Phillips in a 5A semifinal game at Roscoes Eades Stadium. “When you add in how big and how fast they were, it made it for a pretty tough day.”
Sullivan was held to 84 yards, and finished the season with 1,753 yards.
Hard times. Nobody had a harder day than quarterback Trey Morse.
A first-quarter interception set up Phillips with a short field that turned into the game’s first touchdown. In the third quarter, Morse scrambled to his right, and the ball popped out of his hands and straight into the arms of Davis just moments after Phillips had scored on the longest, most time-consuming drive of the day.
The turnover led to another touchdown and a 21-7 lead for Phillips (13-0).
“We didn’t execute today, and I certainly didn’t execute on some key plays, and that cost us,” Morse said. “They were a great team, and the best defense that we’ve seen all season.”
Hard times. The Sterling defense had to fight through being put into positions with its back against wall early in the game while trying to hold all-state running back Craig Elmore in check.
Twice Phillips scored on short fields after turnovers, meaning the defense gave up one long scoring drive and one big play on a 57-yard TD pass to Joseph Thompson.
“The defense kept fighting,” Sterling coach Jon Schlemmer said. “They were put in some tough spots and some short fields, but they kept us in the game.”
Through it all, the defense kept making plays, including a fumble recovery by Jayden Villegas that he scooped up and took 10 yards for a TD in the third quarter.
“I am not sure how long it’s been since we’ve seen a defensive player like Jayden in this program,” Schlemmer said. “To see his growth over the last few years has been amazing. I am going to miss watching him play defense on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons for us.”
Hard times. We’ve all faced them, but the best among us rise up better for it.
Saturday was a hard day for the Warriors (12-1) against a great team, but it comes after a fall of amazing days that has raised the bar for the Sterling football program. Players like Sullivan and Morse put up numbers never seen before at Sterling, while the program reached the semifinal round for the first time.
While dreams of a state berth slipped away, the Sterling program already started to turn its eyes toward 2018 and beyond.
“This was a great team, and they’ve raised the expectations of this program,” Schlemmer said. “The expectation now is for us to be here again and again.”