It’s “big-boy football” time for the Sterling
That’s the phrase head coach Jon Schlemmer uses to describe games that will be a challenge for his team. Throughout most of the season, and lately in particular, it’s turned out that most of the games the Golden Warriors (10-1) played haven’t been all that close.
Rockford Boylan, which comes to Roscoe Eades Stadium for a 5A quarterfinal at 1 p.m. Saturday, won’t be like most of the Golden Warriors’ opponents. The Titans (10-1) have won games in the NIC-10 Conference by a margin of more than four touchdowns, playing schools which average around the 6A-7A cutoff.
Sterling also has averaged a margin of four touchdowns in their wins.
“This is the kind of team that you’re going to see in the quarterfinals,” Schlemmer said. “We’ve only seen a couple of games from them and don’t have a lot of familiarity with them, but the things that they do, they do so well. They’ve been lights out on defense all year; and when you look at their offensive statistics, against pretty good teams, it’s gaudy.”
The Titans boast a pair of burly backs in Caleb Henderson, a 5-foot-11, 205-pound senior, and Trey Malone at 5-10, 220. Henderson has 13 touchdowns and averages 7.5 yards per carry, and also anchors the linebacking corps. Malone has scored 10 times on the ground and averages 8.4 yards per run.
Like the Golden Warriors, Boylan operates on a quarterback platoon, between John Starck and Jake Bergstrom – the latter has rushed for nine touchdowns.
“It’s going to take being able to run with the ball and about winning the line of scrimmage,” Schlemmer said. “We’ve talked to the kids all week that, if we win the line of scrimmage and get after them in the run game, we’re going to be right there in the fourth quarter.”
With the exception of last week’s 34-21 win over Wheaton St. Francis, the Titans had averaged a 41-point margin in their final five conference games and their playoff opener against Glenbard South. Their lone loss was against conference champ and 7A qualifier Hononegah, but they limited the Indians to 17 points.
“It’s going to be a lot different than in the previous weeks,” Sterling senior defensive back Dylan Bryant said. “We’ve really got to get sideline to sideline and really run as a defense, because they run the ball a lot and they have really good quarterbacks, so we’ve really got to up our game with their run.”
Sterling, meanwhile, is coming off back-to-back wins against Chicago Public League opponents: a 49-0 win over Phoenix Military Academy, and a 55-12 victory over Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep. Starters played less than an entire half in those wins, but may have their hands full for more than that with the Titans.
Sterling’s lone loss was a 35-7 Week 9 defeat by Sycamore.
“Their defense reminds us a lot of Sycamore,” senior Weston Sisson said of Boylan. “We know what to expect coming into this game. They way they play the run, they know that they could stop the run first – and we’re a run team first. We’re trying to establish our run to get our pass going. They want to stop the run to make us pass.
“We’ve picked up our energy a lot in practice. We’ve been going after each other, and we don’t want [a loss] to happen again. We know now that every game could be our last.”
Boylan has appeared in 14 quarterfinal games since 1991, and will seek its eighth semifinal appearance. The Titans won the 6A championship in 2010 and 7A championship the following year; however, declining enrollment and a multiplier waiver have lowered the Titans to the 5A ranks this season.
Sterling snapped a six-game losing streak in the quarterfinal round last year, dating back to 1991. This is the third consecutive year that the Golden Warriors have been this far.
Six different Golden Warriors – Negil Bruce, Alek Duran, Jashawn Howard, Savonne Hughes, DJ Johnson and Isaiah Ryan – reached the end zone last week against Brooks; Duran caught touchdown passes from both of Sterling’s quarterbacks, Camden Bailey and Cooper Willman. Seven different players scored against Phoenix.
Sterling wants to see its depth do damage once more, with the Warriors hoping they can contain the run and bring more of their teammates on the field.
“We have multiple weapons, one through three, and they can’t just key in on one person. It’s not going to happen,” Sisson said. “If someone’s not having their best game, we know that someone is there to pick it up. Everybody’s ready for their shot.”
“These last 2 weeks we’ve been able to get healthier,” Schlemmer said. “We’ve been able to get some guys [up] and build some depth throughout the season that was so important to us. It’s shown in these games.”
Boylan (10-1) at Sterling (10-1)
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
Where: Roscoe Eades Stadium
Radio: 105.5 FM