Turnovers will hurt a football team. Turnovers against a state-ranked opponent are a recipe for a long night.

Sterling, ranked No. 3 in Class 5A, took advantage of Pekin’s multiple miscues Friday and beat the visiting Dragons 49-7 in a non-conference game at Roscoe Eades Stadium.

Pekin (1-1) trailed 49-0 at halftime.

The Dragons had five first-half turnovers. All three of their trips into the red zone in the first half ended with a turnover.

Another turnover turned directly into a touchdown when Sterling defensive lineman Tyler Willman grabbed a fumble that bounced off the turf and ran 62 yards for a score.

Here’s another way of looking at how turnovers changed the outcome of the game.

The Dragons were outgained only 262-236, they ran 66 plays to Sterling’s 37 and they won the time of possession competition 32:21 to 15:39.

“You can’t make the mistakes we made and expect to win,” Pekin coach Doug Nutter said Saturday. “The little things hurt us — protecting the ball and finishing drives. But the problems are correctable.”

There was another silver lining.

“Our guys played hard for four quarters and competed until the end,” Nutter said.

Sterling (2-0) opened the game the same way it did in Week 1, with a kickoff return for a touchdown. Jayden Villegas ran 82 yards for a score a week after Nyrell Sullivan had a 90-yard TD.

Pekin drove to the Sterling 8-yard line on its first drive, but Sterling’s Turner Garcia intercepted Quinn Theleritis’ first-down pass, starting the Dragons’ string of turnovers.

Pekin ruined Sterling’s shutout with 1:03 left in the third quarter when Theleritis ran 14 yards into the end zone.

Theleritis was 16-of-38 through the air for 207 yards. He was intercepted three times.

Brad Johnson (five catches, 88 yards), Christian Hill (four catches, 56 yards) and Sebastian Hill (five catches, 43 yards) were Theleritis’ main targets.

Sullivan was Sterling’s biggest offensive threat. He had five carries for 108 yards and two touchdowns.

It was a long night for Christian Hill and his Pekin teammates, but the senior wide receiver-defensive back is confident a week of hard practice will get the Dragons ready for their Mid-Illini Conference opener Friday at Dunlap (2-0).

“We’d love to win the conference championship and we think we have the potential to do it,” Hill said.

Hill is a two-way player this season after playing mostly defense last year.

“It’s a lot of work, but I love it,” the 6-foot, 175-pounder said.


Steve Stein can be reached at stevestein21@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.