By Jeff Nations
STEPHENS CITY -- Sherando High School's football team went out and earned the top seed in the Class 4A North state playoff pairings with a dominant regular season.
The Warriors' opponent tonight, No. 16 seed Amherst County, got into the postseason by the skin of its collective teeth. Sherando rolled to a 9-1 regular-season mark, while the Lancers scuffled through a 3-7 campaign.
None of that matters, not now. The playoffs have arrived, and its loser goes home.
"We've set ourselves up really well, 9-1 is really awesome," Sherando senior center/defensive tackle Matt Lowery said. "But we've played not the best opponents recently, so we definitely have to pick our game up for playoffs. We're just trying to get better every week like we have been."
The Warriors, combining a characteristically stingy defense with a balanced and efficient offense, were rarely tested over much of the season and not at all for at least the past month. Sherando won its last four games by an average of 38.5 points per game, hardly the makings for ideal postseason preparation.
Also of concern for the host Warriors tonight at Arrowhead Stadium is the Lancers' funky single-wing offense, an attack they've faced rarely and never in this particular style.
"With a single wing, we know it's going to be misdirection, deception, all that type of stuff," Sherando coach Bill Hall said. "So for us it's going to be just playing assignment football in terms of our defense."
Senior quarterback D.A. Christian is the trigger man for the Lancers' offense. A true dual threat, Christian leads the team in rushing (876 yards, 10 touchdowns) and passing (37 for 76 passing for 564 yards, 7 TDs). Keeping tabs on Christian will be of primary concern for the Warriors' defense.
"He's a very good athlete -- we're not going to take anything away from him based on their record," Sherando left guard/defensive tackle Dante Tibbs said. "We've all just got to get pressure, keep him contained and we'll have ourselves a good night."
Amherst County isn't lacking for skill. In addition to Christian, the Lancers have four other backs with at least 200 rushing yards this season, and rely on lanky 6-foot-4 wide receiver Darius Wilson (29 catches for 526 yards, 6 TDs) to keep defenses honest.
"They're a really dangerous team," Lowery said. "They have a lot of really good athletes, a lot of quick guys. They have four or five guys that can just go to the house every play, so we just have to keep them under control."
Much of that will depend on the Warriors maintaining that disciplined approach on the defensive side. Hall thinks his team is well-suited to stopping the Lancers' misdirection.
"We match up very well with it, just because I think we have a very disciplined defense," Hall said. "Our guys aren't caught up looking in the backfield, trying to see where the ball is. Our guys read their keys and they go to play football. That's what you've got to do against the single wing. If you get caught looking in the backfield, all these people going in different directions, then you don't know what's going on. As long as you read your key, then you'll be all right."
Amherst County has not been particularly a particularly solid defense this season, allowing an average of 33.1 points per game. That could be lethal for the Lancers against Sherando, which has averaged 36.7 points this season.
"The way their defense is, they have their linebackers up really tight, so the chances are if you break something it could break for a touchdown," Lowery said. "So you just have to get past the first level."
Sherando senior quarterback Reid Entsminger, named the Northwestern District's Offensive Player of the Year, has passed for 1,298 yards and 13 touchdowns and rushed for 567 yards and three scores. LeeQuan Johnson tops the Warriors in rushing with 860 yards, and George Aston -- the Northwestern District Defensive Player of the Year as a linebacker -- has chipped in 50 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns as Sherando's short-yardage specialist. Adam Whitacre is a big-play threat at wideout. He leads the Warriors with 25 catches for 507 yards (20.3 yards per game) and seven touchdowns.
"They're going to come in with a game plan of what they want to take away from us, I'm sure," Hall said. "Our job is to diagnose what that is and attack off of that. The films that we have don't show them versus a lot of different formations, so it'll be an adjustment period for us because we go through a lot of different formations.
"... I think it's important that we do establish a good run game so play-action and everything else opens up. But again, we can run or pass. We've shown the ability to -- we'll just see what they're trying to take away and attack off of that."
Tibbs is confident that the Warriors will come out just fine as long as they stick to their tried and true recipe -- work to get better, each and every week.
"At this point we're just playing against ourselves," Tibbs said. "We've got to be focused and be committed to the process, and things are going to go great."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com>