By Brad Fauber
STEPHENS CITY -- Sherando knows what it's going to get when the Warriors square off with visiting Martinsburg (W.Va.) at Arrowhead Stadium tonight.
The Bulldogs are going to do exactly what has helped them claim a record-tying three straight West Virginia Class AAA state titles under longtime coach David Walker.
Martinsburg is going to try to establish the running game and attempt to strike with the occasional big pass play. The Bulldogs are going to put the pressure on Sherando's offense with an aggressive and athletic defense. That much Warriors coach Bill Hall can count on.
"Martinsburg is always consistently Martinsburg. They do a great job coaching their kids. I think there has been a lot of consistency and continuity in their staff, so I think you always see the same things," Hall said. "It's not one of those things where they try to out-scheme, and I don't mean that in a negative way. They do what they do, and they do it well. They execute at a very high level."
Tonight will mark the third straight year that Sherando and Martinsburg have squared off in a big early-season matchup, and the second time that the Warriors have hosted the Bulldogs in that span.
Sherando gave the Bulldogs all they could handle in the teams' first meeting at Arrowhead Stadium in 2011, as Martinsburg snuck out of Stephens City with a 7-0 win. Last year was a far different story, with the Bulldogs rolling to a 38-0 win over the Warriors.
The Warriors seem determined not to let history repeat itself, but in order to turn the tables on Martinsburg, Sherando will have to beat the Bulldogs at their own game, which means being consistent in its execution.
"Two years ago was better, last year we didn't execute at the level we needed to, but we're not playing for moral victories. We realize that in order for us to get a win we've got to execute at a very high level," Hall said. "We've got to ... stay on schedule, be explosive on offense, stay consistent on defense, don't give up the big play."
Sherando (1-0) comes into tonight riding the momentum of a 40-13 thumping of visiting Musselman (W.Va.) last week, in which the Warriors' offense racked up 500 yards of total offense.
Despite the efficient offensive output, which included 227 yards rushing and 273 passing, the Warriors still see plenty of room for improvement and their goal will be to continue to build off that performance tonight.
That goal will be a little more daunting against the Bulldogs, but Hall said the expectation is still to see progression from Sherando's offense.
"We've just got to take on what we did last week and carry it on to this week and improve, focus on the little things," said Sherando senior quarterback Reid Entsminger, who threw for 273 yards and two touchdowns in last week's win. "We did a lot of good things last week but we can always improve, and that's what we're going to focus on this week is getting the little things right, the little details, and making them perfect."
Hall said Martinsburg has been known to utilize both a 4-4 front and an odd stack on defense, and the Bulldogs will use both formations interchangeably and with equal effectiveness.
On offense, the Bulldogs will look to spread the defense out but try to establish the running game, especially through read-option plays with the quarterback as the primary ball carrier, according to Hall.
Martinsburg's offense struggled at times during a 20-14 win over H.D. Woodson last Friday, and the Bulldogs were outgained 387 to 257 in total yards. Martinsburg also fumbled the ball four times, losing two.
Still, Sherando knows first-hand just how dangerous the Bulldogs' offense can be.
"They're going to hit us in the mouth, and that's what we're going to do back -- we're going to hit them right back in the mouth," Entsminger said. "It's going to be a hard-nosed football game and smash-mouth football."
No matter the outcome, Hall said tonight's game will give the Warriors a good idea about where they stand as a football team.
"As a competitor, these are the games you want to play. You want to test yourself against the best, and they're the three-time state champions, so they're the best that West Virginia has to offer," Hall said. "It's good in terms of I think it gives you a good measuring stick for how you are. As a competitor I like it, and I'm sure our guys like competing against that."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD