By Brad Fauber
STEPHENS CITY -- Sherando hadn't claimed an outright Northwestern District championship since 2007, and on Friday night, the Warriors looked like a team hungry to end that drought.
The Warriors dominated every facet of the game in their regular season finale against visiting Millbrook, as Sherando scored touchdowns on offense, defense and special teams in a 43-7 drubbing of the Pioneers.
Sherando, which has also locked up the top seed in the Class 4A North playoffs, can now turn its attention to the start of postseason play next week.
"That was one of our goals and we achieved it," Warriors senior quarterback Reid Entsminger said of winning the district title outright. "It's good momentum for the playoffs, especially with us being the No. 1 seed. We just want to get the most momentum we can, and tonight we did, getting the district championship ... beating Millbrook, our rival. It was just a great night."
Sherando's offense churned out 378 total yards -- including 221 yards on the ground -- but it was the defense that jumpstarted the Warriors on Friday night.
The Warriors (9-1, 4-0 Northwestern) allowed just 105 total yards despite using its second string players for most of the second half, and it was senior linebacker Joe Daley's 30-yard interception return for a touchdown on Millbrook's opening drive of the game that got Sherando rolling.
"I thought they did a good job setting the tempo for the ballgame and then they just kept ratcheting it up the whole time," Warriors coach Bill Hall said.
Sherando's offense lost a fumble on its opening possession, but the Warriors began heating up late in the first quarter.
The Warriors marched 82 yards on eight plays on their second possession of the game, and Entsminger capped the drive by finding junior Adam Whitacre for a 43-yard touchdown strike. Whitacre created separation on a slant along the left hash, and Entsminger hit him in stride, allowing Whitacre to split a pair of Millbrook defenders and scamper untouched to the end zone.
"Out of the corner of my eye I saw the safety and I thought it was going to be a collision hit. I caught the ball and no one was there, so I just went to the outside and got the touchdown," Whitacre said.
Whitacre displayed his speed again shortly after his touchdown grab, as he fielded a punt following the Pioneers' (2-8, 1-3) next possession and took it 72 yards for a touchdown. Whitacre, who fielded the ball at the Millbrook 28 and bounced out to the left, got a great block downfield from teammate Branden Litten that allowed Whitacre to streak into the end zone untouched.
"Our punt return [team], they've been doing a heck of a job this year, and we've been getting a couple holding calls. Tonight they said they weren't going to hold and they were going to let me get a touchdown. It was pretty cool," said Whitacre, who also celebrated his 17th birthday on Friday. "I had a few guys out in front of me, so I just knew that I was going to get the touchdown."
Sherando continued to pour it on in the second quarter as Entsminger connected with junior Josh Ojo and freshman Dylan Rivers (four catches, 44 yards, one touchdown) for touchdown passes of 22 and 20 yards, respectively, to send the Warriors into halftime with a 35-0 lead.
Entsminger completed 10 of 14 passes for 155 yards and three touchdowns, and also added 85 yards rushing on just eight carries to lead the Warriors.
"I was just getting my reads tonight. I had a few good throws, but my receivers made great plays most of the time," Entsminger said. "I've got to give credit Adam, Dylan and Ojo. They all made great touchdown catches. My wide receivers make, and what can you do? When you trust them that much you just throw the ball and you know they're going to make the play."
Sherando opened the second half with a five-play, 50-yard drive capped by a 21-yard touchdown run by LeeQuan Johnson (10 carries, 64 yards) to take a 43-0 lead.
Millbrook's lone score of the night came on a 37-yard drive that ended in a nine-yard touchdown pass from Mark Paxton (8-for-21, 84 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions) to Taylor James (three catches, 25 yards) in the third quarter.
Sherando limited the Pioneers to just 21 yards rushing on 24 attempts.
"I'm just happy for them. There's a lot of hard work and effort that goes into a moment like this," Hall said. "They're very deserving. I think they've done a great job of just taking care of their business ... it didn't matter who they were playing. That says a lot about them. They're a good group of kids, they work hard and they're committed to achieving goals."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org