By Jeremy Stafford -- firstname.lastname@example.org
STEPHENS CITY -- It was a sight not normally seen in the Sherando locker room.
The floor was basically clean, save for the few black socks and shoulder pads that cluttered the center of the room. Few Sherando players remained, and those who hadn't yet left school grounds said nothing, their cheery chatter replaced by the repeated pangs of slammed lockers.
And Warriors coach Bill Hall, sitting in the adjoining office, sat in a fog, his memory of Sherando's 13-10 loss to Loudoun County on Thursday clouded in his head.
But while the result of the game was an altogether new experience for the Warriors (3-1, 0-0 Northwestern), the final three minutes were quite familiar.
With the game tied 10-10 and winding down to its final minutes, Raiders quarterback Austin Campbell led his team 41 yards to the Sherando 25, leaving plenty of room for Loudoun County place kicker Calle Brown to boot a 42-yard field goal to give the Raiders the win.
In Sherando's season-opener at Park View, Sherando quarterback Corey Rice did much of the same, setting up a game-winning kick by Justin Haines.
"It's all in how you take it," Hall said of the loss. "You can either get better and learn from it and motivate you, or you can let it ruin you.
"I think our guys are wise enough, they've been around long enough that they gotta use that feeling that they have right now and generate that into how they practice and how they prepare for the next opponent."
Loudoun County coach Todd Hill, in his moment of victory, made sure he uttered nothing but compliments about Hall and his proud Sherando program.
"Sherando has been one of the top programs in the state for years, and we hadn't played against a team like that," Hill said. "We took it as a challenge, we got real excited -- I think we were a little too emotional at the beginning.
"Once we calmed down, once we started playing within our scheme, then we started to ... play our kind of football."
And the Warriors certainly played like a top program in the state, at least in the first half.
Sherando tailback Roger Smith sparked the offense, rattling off two eight-yard runs in the Warriors' first possession, while Rice connected, first with Brogan Hoover for 14 yards, then Shawn Branham for 12. The drive ended in a Haines field goal, but no matter: The Warriors were moving the ball at will.
Even after Smith left the game with a slight ankle injury, and tailback Kadeem Blackwood trotted into the huddle, there was no slack in the offense. Blackwood danced off seven yards on his first carry for a first down, and then leapt into the end zone four plays later.
Fireworks spewed high into the night, and the crowd was euphoric. It was the last time such emotion would be displayed on the Sherando sideline.
After the Raiders scored a touchdown in their first possession of the second half, Brown tied the game with a 19-yard chip shot in Loudoun County's second possession, which chewed the clock up until midway through the fourth quarter.
Rice hurled a 10-yard pass to Hoover, but had another one almost intercepted by Raiders defensive back Worth Mays. The passes that had fallen into the arms of Warrior wideouts earlier in the game were suddenly falling incomplete.
"I mean, it's frustrating, you move the ball well in the first half, and I take that upon myself, I made mistakes at key times," Rice said.
"I was rushing my throws, rushing my reads, doing everything that we talked about not doing."
Rice finished the game completing nine passes for 75 yards. Campbell, though, was finding success in the passing game he hadn't seen in the first half. In his final drive of the game, he hit three different receivers to set up Brown's game-winner. Campbell threw for 145 yards on 14 completions.
Hall planned on using dual-threat quarterback Jalen Brisco, returned from a hip injury, in the final drive to bring an added dimension to the Warriors' sputtering offense, but with just over three minutes to go, Hall turned to Rice and his no-huddle. Rice managed to complete a seven-yard pass to Hoover, but that was all the Warriors could muster in their final drive.
"They just need to take what happened tonight and motivate them," Hall said. "I mean they're a motivated group anyway, and obviously it's gonna hurt, as it hurts for all of us. But they got two choices right now. Right now they'll go back to work, we'll watch the film, and we'll learn about some of the things that didn't go our way, and why they didn't go our way.
"We'll be a better team as a result of this."