By Tommy Keeler Jr.
STEPHENS CITY -- Even though Sherando and Liberty have already played this year, things will be very different when they meet again Friday in the Region II, Division 4 playoffs.
It was just three weeks ago that the Warriors beat the Eagles 14-6, but both teams have made changes to their offense since then.
"They've changed their identity a little bit since we played them three weeks ago," Sherando coach Bill Hall said. "They've gone to a little bit more of a power running game.
"Before they were doing a little bit of everything. I think now they've changed it and are focused more on what works best for them."
The Warriors (6-4) have also had to change things due to a broken collarbone to starting quarterback Reid Entsminger.
The Liberty regular-season game was the Warriors' first full game after Entsminger's injury. Sherando has used two quarterbacks to take Entsminger's place with Josh Ojo and Taylor Loudan.
Loudan was the starting tailback before the injury and didn't throw the ball much against the Eagles the first time around. Sherando has been placing both Ojo and Loudan in the backfield and has run more option out of its offense than before, which takes advantage of Loudan's speed and ability to make defenders miss.
"We had to look at what Josh's strengths are and what Taylor's strengths are and try to build off of that," Hall said.
It's been a work in progress, but as the Warriors have become more familiar with the offense they've flourished.
Last week, the Warriors scored 55 points on Millbrook. The Warriors threw the ball only three times in the game. Loudan carried the ball 33 times for 277 yards and had three touchdowns.
"I feel like we did a better job last week," Loudan said. "I think we're getting everything down and doing a better job of executing."
Loudan said it was tough to switch from running back to quarterback, but he's enjoying the move.
"I feel like I'm getting more comfortable running the offense," Loudan said. "And I feel like my teammates trust me to run the offense."
Loudan, the Northwestern District Offensive Player of the Year, has 1,429 yards rushing with 10 touchdowns, and has thrown for 125 yards.
Hall said Loudan has done a great job since stepping in and showing some real leadership for the team.
"I'm real proud of him," Hall said. "Here's an all-district running back and he's asked to move to running back. It was very unselfish of him to be willing to take on that new role, because he knew that was what was best for us as a team."
Junior George Aston also had a huge game last week with 154 yards on 22 carries and two touchdowns. Aston said the offensive line played a huge role in the Warriors' success on offense against the Pioneers.
"The line just opened up some huge holes for me," Aston said. "The offensive line is doing a great job. They're getting better each week."
The Eagles are led on defense by Wyatt Teller, the Evergreen District Defensive Player of the Year. Hall said Teller's so good that it makes it tough to try to run a play on his side of the field.
The Eagles are allowing only 17.9 points per game this season.
The Warriors have been playing well on defense throughout the season, led by Aston with 123 tackles. Senior Chris Smith leads the area with 10.5 sacks. Sherando is allowing only 234.9 yards per game, and 16.4 points per game.
In the meeting on Oct. 19, Liberty had the ball in the final minute trailing by a point. Sherando's Daniel Eppard intercepted a pass by Liberty quarterback Tyler Longerbeam and returned it for the game-sealing touchdown. Many of the games between the Warriors and Eagles have been like that throughout the last six years, and more of the same can be expected on Friday night.
"I expect it to be like it usually is -- a hard-fought battle," Aston said. "It's going to be another dogfight."
Contact assistant sports editor Tommy Keeler Jr. at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org