When the enrollments for the 2019 season were released in the summer, there were plenty of Class 5A teams in the state of Illinois who were shaking their heads at the notion that the St. Rita Mustangs would be competing in 5A this season. A new amendment to the multiplier called the success factor was being exercised for the first time which takes into account the success for non-boundaried schools over the past two seasons with only teams that had won three playoff games in the two-year period to have their enrollments subjected to the 1.65 multiplier. With the Mustangs uncharacteristically missing the 2018 state playoffs after advancing to the quarterfinals in 2017, they had won only two playoff games during the time period thus not subjecting them to the multiplier for the 2019-2020 football seasons. And here we are...
St. Rita will travel to Sterling on Saturday afternoon to battle the undefeated, Western Big 6 Conference champion Golden Warriors, who hold the top seed in the northern part of the Class 5A bracket. Sterling, who like St. Rita has a long football history, plays their home games at the beautiful and newly-renovated Roscoe Eades Stadium, which officially opened on September 22, 1939.
Sterling is led on offense by their dual-threat, three-sport-star, senior quarterback Cooper Willman who has rushed for over 1,000 yards on the season. The Golden Warrior offense has averaged over 49 points per game including cracking the half-century mark in three of their last four contests.
Willman is joined in the backfield by a trio of running backs who share carries, including: senior two-way standout senior Isaiah Yarbrough along with David Tessmann and Jeshawn Howard.
The Golden Warrior offensive line makes their high-powered engine go, and they are led by senior Southern Illinois recruit Nathaniel Beyer at tackle as well as two-way standout Aidan Munoz-Ripley at guard. Sterling is a power football team who will line up mostly in two-back and three-back sets as defensive stalwarts Nick Simister and Trevon Jordan will line up as fullbacks as the Golden Warriors will look to push the smaller St. Rita defensive front up and down the field.
Defensively the Golden Warriors play a standard 4-4 look mixing in man and zone concepts in the defensive backfield. They play a bend-but-don't-break style as they rely upon their high-powered offense to outscore teams.
The Mustangs are led by sophomore running back Kaleb Brown, who rushed for four touchdowns in his playoff debut last Friday on only seven touches. Sophomore quarterback Tommy Ulatowski, who took over as the St. Rita signal-caller in the second half of a week eight contest against Benet, will be playing in his first road game. He is coming off of a solid playoff debut last week as he completed all six of his pass attempts for ninety-six yards including a thirty-six yard touchdown to senior captain Nick Adent.
The defense, led by first-team all-conference selections Michael Milton, Mikey Gaughan, Tommy Hixson, and Zenin Hall, struggled some last week as Gaughan was held out for precautionary reasons. They will look to bounce back this week as they prepare to slow down the high-flying Golden Warrior attack.
Game time is set for 1pm on Saturday in Sterling as the Mustangs will leave in the morning on their two-hour journey hoping to come back home with a spot in the quarterfinals against the winner of Fenwick/Hillcrest in their back pockets.