By Brad Fauber
Sherando senior Taylor Loudan remembers all too well what happened last season when the Warriors prepared to take on Northwestern District foe Skyline.
Sherando went into last year's contest against the Hawks riding a four-game win streak and sporting a 2-0 record in the district. A victory over Skyline would have kept the Warriors in sole possession of the top spot in the district, but the Hawks were able to grind out a 15-7 win to eventually force a three-way tie for the district crown.
Loudan blamed a poor week of preparation for last season's letdown against the Hawks, and he and his fellow seniors weren't about to let that happen again when Sherando faces Skyline tonight at Arrowhead Stadium.
"A lot of us seniors that were on the team last year stepped up this week and kind of got everyone motivated," Loudan said. "We knew that we had to come out and have a good week of practice mentally and physically, that way we can come out and do what we need to do Friday night."
Tonight's showdown, much like last season, will have major implications on the final Northwestern District standings.
Skyline (7-1, 3-0 Northwestern) can claim the outright title with a win over Sherando. The Hawks were one of the three teams, along with Sherando and Handley, to tie for the top spot last season, and they have their sights set on much loftier goals this time around.
"Last season we were thankful to get an opportunity to get a piece of it. This season, it's a whole different feeling," said Skyline coach Heath Gilbert. "We have a lot of confidence in ourselves, and from the get-go we wanted to have it all. Now, we've been able to put ourselves in this position to maybe get it all."
Sherando certainly won't make that an easy task. The Warriors are coming off a very physical win over Liberty last week that was highlighted by the outstanding play of the Sherando defense.
The Warriors (5-3, 2-0) held Liberty to just 80 yards rushing on 33 carries, and the stout Sherando defensive line is a major concern for Skyline's ground game.
"We've got to try to slow them down. We can try to do that with our option game, misdirection," Gilbert said. "If we run straight at them and let them get downhill, it's going to be tough. We have to use our niche, with a little misdirection and the things that we do well to try to slow them down."
Skyline features a persistent rushing attack out of the pistol formation, and has plenty of weapons in the backfield, including senior Dayvon Haight (63 carries, 714 yards) and quarterback Aaron Jeremiah (59 carries, 351 yards).
Sherando coach Bill Hall said the Warriors must force Skyline to sustain drives and not allow the Hawks to make any game-changing plays.
"I think they are a very explosive offense. That causes you be very assignment-oriented. We've got to do a good job with that," Hall said. "We have to make them drive the ball -- I think that's key. I think when they've had a lot of success this year is when they've had a big-play strike."
The Hawks have thrived off the big play this season, but Skyline's defense has also shown to be susceptible to giving up the big play, particularly in the passing game.
Skyline allowed nearly 400 yards through the air in a 42-31 win over Handley last Friday. The Hawks have allowed 1,500 yards through the air this season, the most in the area.
Hall said the Warriors won't "change the identity" of their offense for one game, and the Hawks are sure to see a heavy dose of the running game, especially with starting quarterback Reid Entsminger out with a broken collarbone.
Still, Skyline is expecting to see Sherando throw the ball, given the struggles by the Hawks' defense in that department this season. Gilbert said a big emphasis will be to prevent Sherando sophomore quarterback Josh Ojo from getting comfortable in the pocket.
Ojo's play at quarterback, although limited to two games, has already impressed Skyline.
"I think he brings a whole new dimension. He has those quick feet, and obviously his passing against Handley [on Oct. 13] showed he has all of the dimensions," said Hawks senior linebacker Zack Blair.
Sherando still controls its own destiny and can win the district outright by winning its last two ballgames, and the Warriors hope that an intense week of preparation will help them seal the deal this time around.
"We were pumped up to Liberty [last week], but we're even more pumped up to play Skyline this week after what happened last year," said Warriors junior George Aston. "We're just focusing on what we need to do and what we need to accomplish -- focusing on winning every play, one at a time."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org