By Jeff Nations
STEPHENS CITY -- Aaron Jeremiah was just unflappable.
Jerrius Baltimore was simply unstoppable.
Dayvon Haight was absolutely unbelievable.
Those three, among many, made certain that Skyline High School's football team was flat-out unbeatable in the Northwestern District this season as the Hawks wrapped up the regular-season title with a 28-21 victory over Sherando at Arrowhead Stadium on Friday night.
Despite a slew of standout performances by the Hawks, the Warriors pushed Skyline to the very brink in a rollicking district battle that featured three fourth-quarter touchdowns.
Down 21-7 early in the fourth quarter, Sherando (5-4, 2-1 Northwestern) stormed back with a pair of touchdowns to tie the game with a little more than two minutes to play.
The second of those TDs came when the Warriors' Joe Daley snared a throwback-pass from Jeremiah that sail through Haight's hands at the Sherando 48-yard-line. Daley's interception return put the Warriors on the Skyline 19, and four plays later George Aston plowed into the end zone from three yards out to pull Sherando within a point.
Warriors coach Bill Hall elected to go for a two-point conversion, prompting Skyline to call a timeout. Sherando still lined up for the conversion try after that, but a false start penalty changed those plans and Tylar Clowser's extra-long extra point tied the game at 21-all with 2:22 to play.
"That was an easy decision," Hall said of his plan to go for two. "That was one of the easier decisions to make."
Skyline (8-1, 4-0) responded, and fast. Baltimore returned a short kickoff 15 yards to his own 42, and Jeremiah broke loose for a 23-yard scramble on first down. Haight (game-high 166 rushing yards) popped free on a run straight up the middle for a 30-yard gainer, and two plays later Jeremiah capped the lightning-fast drive with a 3-yard touchdown run.
"I had to make a play," Jeremiah said. "I made the play. We just powered the ball down the field and we score and go up to win. I couldn't think of a better way to win this game than this."
The Warriors still had 58 seconds, and it was nearly enough. Starting at their own 35, Sherando raced down the field. Quarterback Taylor Loudan opened with an 11-yard run, then hit Joshua Wagner for a 7-yard completion that turned into 17 with a defensive holding penalty. Loudan then connected with John Bentley (four catches, 73 yards) on a 26-yard pass play for first down. After a 5-yard pass play from Loudan to Wagner got the ball to Skyline's 8, the Warriors called their final timeout with 14 seconds to play.
Facing second-and-5, Loudan hit Josh Ojo with a screen pass toward the sideline. Jeremiah, playing defensive back, kept Ojo in bounds with his tackle to keep the clock running. The Warriors frantically tried to line up for a final play, but their time ran out.
"In the second half I thought we just did a good job, kept fighting back," Hall said. "I think the difference is you've got to make big plays in big ballgames to win them, and we just didn't make enough big plays."
Skyline made plenty of big plays, starting with Jeremiah's 40-yard touchdown run to open the scoring in the first quarter.
Daniel Eppard's fumble recovery at the Hawks' 25 put Sherando in striking distance later in the first quarter, and Loudan immediately took advantage with a 25-yard touchdown strike to Bentley.
Sherando's defense came up big on Skyline's next possession with a stop on fourth-and-1 at their own five, but the Hawks broke through on their next possession when Haight popped through a gap and outran everyone for a 93-yard touchdown.
Skyline nearly added to its lead by recovering an onside kick after Haight's touchdown, but Sherando's defense again held firm after the Hawks move to the Warriors' 10.
Baltimore (85 rushing yards) did serious damage for Skyline in the second half when he subbed in at quarterback in Skyline's "Horseman" package. Baltimore carried three times for 50 yards on Skyline's 10-play, 94-yard drive in the third quarter that ended with Haight's 9-yard touchdown run.
"He's so elusive," Gilbert said of Baltimore. "His greatest asset is his lateral movement, and he really put that on display. He scares me a little bit with that ball security -- he could keep it a little tighter -- but he protected the football and he definitely made the kids miss and gave us big yards up the middle."
Loudan (144 rushing yards), who shifted from quarterback to running back throughout the game, capped an eight-play drive with a 5-yard touchdown run on Sherando's ensuing possession to get his team back within a touchdown with 8:55 to play.
Loudan orchestrated Sherando's tying drive as well after Daley's interception, but ultimately it wasn't enough. Skyline piled up 434 yards of total offense, with 377 coming on the ground.
"Eventually the defense is going to wear down," Loudan said. "Offense has got to step up -- [our defense] has been doing it for us all year. Offense has got to respond."
After splitting the district title three ways last year, Skyline won the Northwestern outright for the first time in school history.
"That means a lot, because last year we shared it with two other teams," Jeremiah said. "We're going out with a bang -- I've played with these guys all my life and to finally make history at the school and get a district banner, it's amazing."
Contact sports editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137, or firstname.lastname@example.org