By Jeremy Stafford -- firstname.lastname@example.org
STERLING -- The heavy rains brought misfortune. They brought slick mud and deep puddles. They brought untimely fumbles, missed tackles, ill-thrown balls and plenty of interceptions.
But as Sherando kicker Justin Haines trudged through the mud on his way back to the locker room, it didn't matter what the rains had brought. With the Sherando spear in his hand and teammates Corey Rice, Kadeem Blackwood and Jack Morris by his side, Haines may as well have been gliding on a bed of dry, green grass.
For despite the rains, Haines launched a 41-yard field goal just over the crossbar, giving the Sherando Warriors a 24-21 win over Park View as time expired.
"I knew it was good as soon as I kicked it," said Haines, who had earlier missed a 34-yard attempt.
Warriors coach Bill Hall said that before Haines' kick, he "tried to keep it as routine as normal," reminding Haines of the long field goals he continually makes during practices.
The field goal was set up by a fabulous interception return by Dalton Boyd, who nabbed a high lob from Park View quarterback Brandon Lee at the Patriots' 15-yard line. He returned the pick to the Sherando 45, and a Patriots penalty on the play moved the ball to the Warrior 25 with just over three seconds remaining in a 21-21 ball game.
Warriors running back Roger Smith couldn't watch as Haines lined up the kick. He took a knee, bent his head down toward the muddy field, and prayed. For a moment there were cheers, and Smith's heart stopped before he lifted his head and rushed to join in the team-wide mobbing of Haines.
What Smith did see, though, was his 32-yard touchdown run to tie the game 14-14 with 4:43 remaining in the third quarter. With the slick ground and Rice in only his fourth career start at quarterback, Smith took on the bulk of the Warriors' offensive load, rushing for 184 yards and two touchdowns on 35 carries.
"We had to go there and want it more than anyone else," Smith said. "I pulled the o-line aside to talk to them and said, 'Hey, we have to do this, because if we don't, no one will.'
"We got out there, we ran the ball and scored."
Smith's success carrying the ball early in the second half also baited the Park View secondary closer to the line of scrimmage, setting up a 51-yard play action touchdown pass from Rice to Boyd to put Sherando up 21-14 late in the third quarter.
"We talked about that at halftime and said that was something we needed to look for," Rice said of the play-action pass. "We came into the second half, went out, ran it, and had success with it."
For much of the first half, Smith and the Warriors moved the ball with some consistency before their drives eventually stalled. On a second and goal early in the second quarter, Smith fumbled the ball. He managed to make up for the miscue by punching in a three-yard score on Sherando's next drive, but the Warriors again gave up possession when a lateral pass from Rice, intended for Blackwood, was recovered by the Patriots.
Although the offense struggled to find a rhythm early, there was some comfort in the fact that the Sherando defense held strong: Park View's 14 first-half points were scored on a punt return and interception return. The Patriots' only offensive score was on a 15-yard shuffle pass from Lee to Tommy Sedeski with 11:53 to go in the game.
For Hall, it was the defense's ability to limit the Patriots' consistency on offense that won them the game: Only Sedeski produced a play for longer than 10 yards.
"It was a reward for the character of our guys and how hard they played for that game," Hall said. "We definitely made our fair share of mistakes, but they kept playing and kept fighting hard and found a way to win it at the end.
"I think that was a great symbol for us the way we just kept playing the whole game."