STERLING – The St. Rita defense swarmed to stop everything Sterling threw at it during the Class 5A second-round game on Saturday at Prescott Memorial Field.
Meanwhile, the Sterling defense came up with some stops, but St. Rita sophomore Kaleb Brown was a one-man wrecking crew in the Mustangs’ 32-0 win to knock out the top seed in the 5A North bracket.
Brown had 24 carries for 245 yards and a pair of rushing scores, and also caught a 46-yard pass for a touchdown.
“Our counter plays [were working] just picking through, and as long as the linemen do their job, we’ve been just fine,” Brown said.
The reception came on St. Rita’s first play from scrimmage in the game after the Mustangs had stopped Sterling for three-and-out on the game’s opening drive.
He also wove his way through traffic for a 68-yard touchdown late in the first quarter, then scored on a 5-yard run late in the third.
“On the first [Brown touchdown], we knew the look that we’d get, we just came down and missed the tackle in the open field,” Sterling coach Jon Schlemmer said. “That kid’s just a fantastic football player. He’s going to do big things.”
Sterling’s defense was able to recover a pair of fumbles, Michael Hanrahan intercepted a pass, and players not named Brown on the St. Rita roster accounted for 6 yards through the air and 13 on the ground.
“I thought our defense got off the field at times,” Schlemmer said. “Just really proud of this group. That [32-0] is not an indication of what the season is about. You look at certain groups, and this group is going to be remembered for the way they stuck with it. [Going] 2-7 as freshmen and to be able to come out as seniors and do what they did throughout the regular season, win a playoff game, get here – I know we fell short against a really good team, but I’m really proud of them.”
Sterling’s offense never quite got on track. Dual-threat senior quarterback Cooper Willman was held to 44 rushing yards and 39 passing yards. His first 10 carries of the game resulted in a net loss of 3 yards, and he was stopped for a loss or no gain five times.
“That’s just a good team,” Willman said. “We knew it all week, and we just didn’t have it like we have in the past weeks. That’s a good ballclub. I could see them winning state, and that’s what I hope they do.”
Sterling’s went three-and-out on six of its first seven drives of the game, going four-and-out with a turnover on downs on the other. The Golden Warriors’ first first down of the game came late in the second quarter on a pass interference call, but they ended up punting three plays later.
“Our defense takes a lot of pride in stopping the run,” St. Rita coach Todd Kuska said. “We knew they were a run-first team. We’re not very big up front, but we get after it. Our guys are quick and tenacious.”
Sterling (10-1) managed a seven-play drive just before the half that reached the St. Rita 42, but fumbled the ball away. Late in the third quarter, the Warriors got to the Mustangs’ 19 with an 11-yard pass from Willman to Luke Heffelfinger, but a run for a loss on the next play followed by three imcomplete passes turned the ball over on downs.
St. Rita (8-3) got interceptions from Zenin Hall and Mykai Harris (Harris returned his to the Warriors’ 4 to set up a Jaden Edwards touchdown) and recovered a fumble while holding Sterling to 109 yards of total offense. The Warriors had been under 100 yards until David Tessmann broke off a 14-yard rush on the game’s final play.
It was Sterling’s first shutout loss in a postseason game since a 34-0 loss to Crystal Lake South in a Class 6A first-round game in 2002, and first shutout loss in any game since a 42-0 loss to Kaneland on September 7, 2012.
5A playoffs, second round
St. Rita 32, Sterling 0
Star of the game: Kaleb Brown, St. Rita, 24 carries, 245 yards, 2 TDs, 1 reception, 46 yards, 1 TD
Quote: “They had one guy every time, even two guys at times [spying on keepers] so it was hard for me to get yards. They played really well, and props to them.” Sterling QB Cooper Willman