By Jeff Nations
STEPHENS CITY -- Sherando's offense was far from its best on Friday night at Arrowhead Stadium.
Thanks to the Warriors' smothering defense, it didn't have to be against Kettle Run. Sherando hounded and harassed the Cougars all night, and got just enough production on the offensive side to notch a surprisingly comfortable 17-7 victory.
Sherando (3-1) used demoralizing pressure to snuff out Kettle Run's previously dangerous offense, limiting the Cougars to negative yardage in passing and only 124 yards rushing in the victory.
"We gave them some different looks in terms of putting different people on the center, and then also I thought we did a good job of mixing up coverages," Sherando coach Bill Hall said. "I think it was pretty fundamental in our approach. We weren't doing a lot of crazy, exotic things."
Sherando's George Aston was in the middle of what he termed "a total dogfight" all night long, and came away with plenty of respect for his opponent and even more for the Warriors' defensive line.
"This week we've had some awesome practices, better than we've had all year," Aston said. "Our d-line really stepped up this week -- [Phillip] Hamilton, Tyler Moquin, Matt Van Shufflin -- all of our defensive line really stepped up and that's what we were missing."
The Warriors did break through early with a touchdown set up by quarterback Reid Entsminger's running ability. Entsminger broke loose on a 54-yard keeper out of the shotgun, and one play later Aston rumbled into the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown run to put Sherando up 7-0 with 6:39 left in the first quarter.
Following an impressive display of punting by both sides, the Warriors tacked on three more points when Tyler Jones connected on a 27-yard field goal with 9:24 left in the first half.
Kettle Run (1-2) finally found a spark later in the second quarter when Austin Lewis sprang free for a 56-yard run down to the Sherando goal line. Three plays later, Cougars quarterback Denzel Champion dove into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown run.
That was easily the highlight of the night for Champion. He completed just one pass -- for minus-2 yards -- in 14 attempts with two interceptions.
"It's his third varsity start, and he struggled tonight," Kettle Run coach Jeff Lloyd said. "Just like the rest of us."
The Warriors couldn't do much with the Cougars, either. Kettle Run's persistent man-to-man coverage allowed extra defenders in the box, making the night a tough one for Sherando's running game outside of Entsminger (game-high 126 rushing yards). Entsminger also had a forgettable night passing the ball, completing just 3-of-17 passes for 22 yards.
"We expected a hard-nosed football game, and that's what we got," Entsminger said. "I think we answered well on defense. On offense, we just had to grind. It was a battle in the trenches, who could block the best and who was more in shape. Tonight we executed well and we got the job done."
Hall said the Warriors had opportunities to do damage on offense.
"They were putting so much pressure on us, and it was one of those things where we tried to take some shots to take advantage of the pressure that they were putting on us and we just couldn't connect," Hall said. "Then we'd put ourselves behind the chains, and then it was the same thing again."
The Cougars' defense kept them in the game, but their offense simply had no answers. Kettle Run never really did threaten in the second half, turning the ball over twice and rarely venturing into Sherando territory.
Aston's 16-yard touchdown run with 39 seconds left finally iced the victory for Sherando.
"I thought we played outstanding on one side of the football, and I thought we were really, really bad on the other," Lloyd said. "We haven't had those offensive numbers in a long time. We lost one of our best skill players before the half -- the [David] Eldridge kid -- and I guess it just crippled us. We struggled tonight in the passing game."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>