Football's Historic Season Shows True Spirit of Warrior Football
"Football is like life, it requires perseverance, self-denial, hard work, sacrifice, dedication, and respect for authority."
The 2013 Sterling College Football season was a season that none of the players, coaches, school, and community will ever forget. It started in the midsummer's heat on Sterling's campus with the sounds of whistle blowing, helmets cracking, and play calling coming from the practice football field. There, the making of an unforgettable season would unfold and the blood, sweat, and tears would be shed to show the true meaning of being apart of Warrior football.
The Warriors were coming off a disappointing 2012 season where Sterling finished 3-7 on the season with a 3-6 record in the KCAC. The discouraging season found the Warriors sitting in eighth place at the end of the season and looking towards next year for a better performance for the 2013 season. With many seniors graduating, the voids they left at their position would need to be filled by returners, junior college transfers, and incoming freshmen. Many players were brought in to bring in new life and also make some position competition within the locker room. The meshing and molding would soon all come together for what would make an extraordinary 2013 season.
"My expectations going into every season are the same. Improve, compete regardless, and believe. It never changes from that. I don't speculate on record or players or injuries or stats," said Head Coach Andy Lambert, "Those kinds of things are outside my control and I really want us to be dedicated to things we can control like effort, attitude and, selflessness."
The schedule started off with the team traveling down to Goodwell, Okla. to take on the Oklahoma Panhandle State University Aggies, an NCAA II institution, for a tough first matchup for the season. Although Sterling was unable to get anything going offensively against a stingy Aggies defense the Warriors showed some bright spots during the game but would ultimately lose 35-13.
The next opponent for the Warriors was the Culver-Stockton College Wildcats; this was the first home game for Sterling and also the start of the annual HAAC-KCAC football challenge. The Warriors offensive tempo in this game would act as a precursor for what Sterling could be capable of throughout the season. The Sterling faithful would see a lot of scoring in a multitude of different ways such as an offensive rushing, passing, and special teams touchdown. Quarterback Reggie Langford would be act as the general for the offense as he proved it with his feet and arm. Langford would throw a touchdown pass and also collect 169 yards on the ground with two scores of his own. The Warriors were also able to show off their running ability not only with Langford, but also with newcomer running back Antonio Bray. Bray rushed for 157 yards with two scores but also showed his elusiveness and speed with a 100-yard kick off return for a touchdown. Bray's ability to find a seam and his breakthrough speed would be noticed by KCAC coaches but would also be noticed on a national level by the NAIA.
Riding high from their first win of the season, Sterling would open up KCAC play the following week against the Friends University Falcons. This matchup would be a rude awaking for the Warriors as they would be shut out 31-0 and held to 49 total yards of offense. This loss would resonate with all of the football players and coaches. The bar was set to get better and to learn from early mistakes in the loss. This was not only the first conference loss but would be the only loss the Warriors would have for the rest of conference play and also their final loss of the regular season.
Eighth Ranked Tabor College would come to Sterling to show their dominance in the NAIA and the KCAC. This matchup would set the tone for the rest of the season for the Warriors. The Blue Jays and Warriors would go back and forth throughout the game and the victor would be determined in overtime. The final play of the game was set up by Dentton Hudspeth touchdown and Head Coach Andy Lambert went with a gamble by going for two and the victory. Reggie Langford would scramble in the backfield to find an open receiver and found Matt Schmidt in the back of the endzone for the score and the momentous victory over Tabor. The pandemonium from the stands resonated all over campus and through out the community. This would be the focal point for Sterling to stamp their ticket in the history books.
This win would be the quintessential win and attitude for the Warrior Football team, the ability to stay strong, always strive to be the best, and to make their mark in Sterling's athletics history. Sterling would continue to be dominant in KCAC play and finish the season with an eight game winning streak to seal the first ever football KCAC Conference Championship in school history. The Warriors would continue their dominance by scoring points quickly and playing stellar defense. Sterling's offense during the eight game win streak would average 45 points per game, average 418 yards of total offense, and to cap it all off the Sterling's Defense turn in +27 turnover margin. This turnover margin was not only ranked number one in the KCAC but would be the number one ranked turnover margin the NAIA as well.
The Warriors would also see numerous players set the bar offensively by producing exceptional numbers game in and game out. Quarterback Reggie Langford averaged 277 yards through the air, accumulate 24 total touchdowns, and rush for an average of 103 yards per game. This threat to go through the air and on the ground would stifle defenses and give Sterling multiple angles to get a Warrior touchdown. Running Back Antonio Bray would be also be a key ingredient in the 2013 season, Bray averaged 60 yards a game on kick off returns, scored twice on kick off returns, and scored 10 times on the ground during the winning streak. Bray would lead the nation with 2352 all-purpose yards and would also be third in the nation in all-purpose yards per game with 196. When these two were able to get an open field in front of them, it was almost impossible to stop them.
The Warriors would seal their championship with a 36-19 victory over the Kansas Wesleyan Coyotes. The electricity from the Sterling's side of the field was contagious, all the fans on their feet, cheering on the Warriors, and being apart of history as they watch the first KCAC football championship team in Sterling school history. This magical moment brought many smiles to everyone's faces, and also many tears from many of the alumni in the stands. The euphoria was even sweeter with the whispers between the fans as the mention of other teams in the conference losing and Sterling would be the last man standing from the KCAC and the team that would be named KCAC champions.
"This season was amazing in so many ways. We proved to everyone that we can compete with the best, but to know that we will forever be known as the first team to win a conference championship is such an awesome feeling," Quarterback Reggie Langford said about the season, "We made history this season, and it doesn't get much better than that."
Of the seniors on the football team, Wide Receiver Jordan Coleman has been at Sterling the longest and been a part of all the lows and highs in the past 4 years. "My career at Sterling I think was best represented through this season. At times it was difficult dealing with injuries and losing, but coach preaches that we never give up, "Shake it off and step up." That's what I did, that's what WE did, and I think KCAC Champs sums it up," said Jordan Coleman.
With this conference championship in hand, the Warriors waited in the cafeteria to see whom their first opponent in the NAIA Football playoffs would be. The cafeteria grew silent when they heard "Sterling College" as they waited anxiously who their opponent would be. After what seemed to be an eternity waiting, the announcer would say, "The Sterling College football team will travel to Baldwin City, Kan. to take on the Baker University Wildcats." The team erupted with cheers as they not only are the first KCAC conference titleholders but also will be the first team to represent Sterling College in Football postseason play in school history.
The team would prepare for the high-powered Baker team whom looked continue their authority from their own conference to the postseason. It would be proven on November 23rd, on a day where it wouldn't reach a temperature above freezing with the wind whipping all day. The score was a tight one throughout the first half with the Warriors getting on the board first with an Antonio Bray 68-yard run, but the Wildcats answered back with their own touchdown before going into the half tied 7-7. Both defenses would be stifling though out the second half and it would come down to a last second field goal for the game. Baker's kicker was able to make it through the uprights and seal the victory for the Wildcats and put an end to the incredible season for the Warriors. Sterling would finish the season with a 9-3 record and an 8-1 record in the KCAC, and a final ranking of No.14 in the NAIA Coaches' Poll.
Sterling's accomplishments on the field wouldn't go unnoticed by the conference. Head Coach Andy Lambert was named KCAC Coach of the Year, Assistant Coaches Brett Clow and Chase Hansen were named Co-Assistant Coaches of the Year. Antonio Bray would be named KCAC Special Teams Player of the Year, a NAIA Football All-American, and the football team would have 17 athletes named to KCAC all-conference awards.
"I really had a fantastic time this year coaching. It is always a good ride but the attitude of the players on our team and the deep investment of time and energy that was made, created a unique experience," Lambert said of the 2013 season, "They were unselfish, tough, and full of confidence and persistence."