By Ben Brooks -- firstname.lastname@example.org
STEPHENS CITY -- While it didn't have quite the drama of last week's game-winning kick as time expired, Sherando High School's home football opener against Musselman (W.Va.) on Friday night did come down to the closing minutes.
And this time it was the Warriors' defense that came up big.
Sherando stuffed Applemen quarterback Brandon Michael's fourth-and-1 sneak up the middle with 1:26 left to play, and the Warriors ran out the rest of the clock to secure a 16-12 non-district victory.
"We saw it coming," said Sherando senior strong safety Phil Root, who blocked a pair of extra points on the night. "They'd run it on every short-yardage play. We just kept in our base and came up strong."
Musselman took over on its own 20 after Justin Haines missed on a 36-yard field goal attempt. Two first downs got the Applemen inside Sherando territory. On a third-and-1, Michael took a shot downfield and nearly connected with his favorite target on the night, Ray Wiesenburg.
On fourth down, Michael tried to pick up the first down, but the senior was pushed back by the center of Sherando's defense. Warriors outside linebacker Baxter Newman recovered a fumble, but by that time Sherando (2-0) was already celebrating taking over on downs.
"I saw he wasn't getting the push," Newman said. "Then I saw the ball on the ground and just fell on it."
"We hoped to have blocked it a little better," Musselman coach Denny Price said of the fourth-down play. "We'd been running a lot of off tackle. We tried to go back to the center and keep them honest."
The Applemen (0-2), coming off a 38-0 loss to Loudoun County last week, gave the Warriors everything they wanted.
"We went into the game thinking that we matched up pretty well," said Price, whose team led 6-3 at halftime and held a 176-109 total offense advantage. "We made some things happen for them and against good teams you can't do that. But we're going to win some games."
Sherando's offense was basically limited to a seven-minute stretch to start the third quarter. Kadeem Blackwood took a handoff up the middle on the third play of the third quarter and bounced it outside for a 54-yard scoring run to put the Warriors ahead 10-6.
On its next possession, Sherando went 34 yards in seven plays, capped by Roger Smith's 3-yard touchdown run off left tackle.
James Worker's 28-yard punt return set up the drive.
When Zach James intercepted his second pass of the game (he also had a fumble recovery) on Musselman's ensuing possession, it looked like Sherando would put the game away. But the Applemen got it right back on the very next play when Jesse Hanes picked off Corey Rice and returned it deep into Sherando territory. Two plays later, Michael hit Wiesenburg on a 17-yard scoring strike to cut the deficit to 16-12.
"We didn't give our best effort tonight," Warriors coach Bill Hall said. "Not taking anything away from them. They played hard and physical. We just weren't consistent enough. We were a little flat when we came out. I was a little disappointed in that."
Blackwood finished with 90 yards rushing. Smith, who sat out the first quarter for what Hall called a coach's decision, added 80 hard-earned yards on 22 carries. Only one of his runs went more than 10 yards. Rice was an efficient 7-of-12 passing for 119 yards. His biggest pass of the night may have come on third-and-12 deep inside his own territory late in the third quarter when the Applemen had seized momentum. Rice found Dalton Boyd for a 16-yard gain that got the Warriors out of a hole. It didn't lead to points, but it helped change the field position.
Michael went 7-for-16 with 98 yards passing. Six of those completions went to Wiesenburg, including a 12-yard scoring toss late in the first quarter that erased a 3-0 Sherando lead. Michael also added 54 rushing yards.
Sherando struck first. Following a Musselman fumble, the Warriors drove 42 yards, setting up Haines' 30-yard field goal with 3:52 left in the first quarter.