By Jeff Nations
STEPHENS CITY -- Just when Amherst County High School's football team thought it had finally built a little momentum in Friday's Class 4A North first-round playoff game against Sherando, along came LeeQuan Johnson Jr.
Johnson, with nary a touch in Sherando's first two scoring drives, was the man with the answer after the Lancers finally got on the scoreboard with a touchdown of their own. Johnson got his first carry on the Warriors' next possession, and the junior running back promptly broke off an 81-yard touchdown run that shifted the momentum back to his team for good in a 49-15 victory at Arrowhead Stadium.
That was a huge answer," Sherando coach Bill Hall said of Johnson's touchdown run.
Amherst coach Cecil Phillips had a different take on that particular play.
"It just kicked us right in the guts, pretty much," Phillips said.
Top-seeded Sherando (10-1) wasted little time in asserting their superiority against the 16th seeded Lancers. The Warriors' Reid Entsminger penetrated deep into Amherst's backfield put a lick on quarterback D.A. Christian and force a fumble that teammate Daniel Eppard recovered at the Lancers' 29-yard line.
Sherando's George Aston capped the ensuing four-play drive with a 6-yard touchdown run, and the Warriors quickly capitalized on another Lancers mistake. Sherando's Quentin Rohrbaugh recovered the loose ball on a fumbled kickoff return immediately after Aston's touchdown, giving the Warriors the ball at Amherst's 24.
Three plays later, Entsminger delivered a 6-yard touchdown pass to Eppard to put the Warriors up 14-0 with 7:09 left in the first quarter.
"Just a lack of execution, and that's kind of been our problem the entire year," Phillips said. "We have never been able to overcome those small things, such as taking care of the football. We spotted them 14 very quick points and with a team the caliber of Sherando, you cannot do that."
The Lancers finally caught a break later in the first quarter. Sherando's defense forced a punt, but the Warriors fumbled the return and Amherst recovered at the Sherando 36.
Christian capped a three-play drive with a 16-yard touchdown run on a quarterback keeper, and Darius Wilson ran in the two-point conversion to cut Sherando's lead to 14-8 with 3:14 still left in the first quarter.
Then Johnson got involved, and it started to get ugly for the Lancers after that. The 81-yard touchdown run was the longest of his career.
"I just cherished my opportunity to get in the ballgame," Johnson said. "When Reid called the play, I was like, 'This is my chance.' I just did what I had to do."
The Warriors added to their lead in the second quarter. Starting at their own 7 after forcing a punt, the Warriors got a huge chunk of yardage when Entsminger (10 of 12 passing for 275 yards, 2 TDs) hit James Tinsman on a 70-yard pass completion. Three plays later, Aston capped the 93-yard scoring drive with a 2-yard touchdown run to put his team up 28-8 with 5:47 left in the first half.
"We saw it all week in film, how their safety bites hard on play action," Entsminger said. "That's what opened up our play action tonight, the entire time. It worked the whole night and they never got a hold of it because we pounded the ball so much, they never knew when we were going to go play action."
Entsminger and company demonstrated that once again on the opening play of the second half when he connected with Eppard on an 80-yard touchdown strike off play action. That was another crushing play for the Lancers, who fell behind 35-8 just seconds into the third quarter.
"We had been setting that up," Hall said. "I was just kind of saving that."
Sherando turned the ball over on its next two possessions, and the second time the Lancers capitalized on their good fortune. Trevor Booker's interception and 40-yard return set Amherst up at the Warriors' 10, and Deandre Kyle finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run on fourth down.
The Warriors answered right back once more, as Johnson (game-high 153 rushing yards) finished off a nine-play, 62-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run.
Entsminger capped off the scoring on Sherando's next possession with a 6-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter.
Sherando outgained the Lancers in total offense, 561-99, and forced three turnovers.
"Their guys stepped up and made big plays when they had to make big plays," Phillips said. "We're not a team that's going to be very solid in third-and-long situations."
That was the idea, and Sherando's constant penetration into the backfield largely shut down the Lancers' single-wing plays.
"That's the key to our defense -- we're a fast, passionate defense and we like to hit people," Entsminger said. "That's our motto, we're the hit squad. That's what we wanted to do to night, was just hit them in the mouth."
Sherando will host the winner of today's Liberty/Handley game next Friday night at Arrowhead. Game time is 7 p.m.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>