By Brad Fauber
STEPHENS CITY -- As Sherando prepares for Saturday's Class 4A state football championship game against Dinwiddie at Liberty University in Lynchburg, the Warriors continue to take things one step at a time and focus only on the task at hand.
But even for a program that has thrived on its "living in the moment" mentality this season, it remains important to realize the magnitude of what Sherando has accomplished on the football field this year.
On Saturday, the Warriors will be looking to win their first football state championship in four tries. But as Sherando head coach Bill Hall points out, the Warriors are also playing for the tradition that links all Warriors, past and present.
"The thing that we've preached since day one, and the thing that I relay back to all the guys that I've talked to from the first day that I've been coaching all the way through, is that they're all part of that [tradition]," said Hall, who took over as head coach of the program in 2003 after serving three years as an assistant coach under Tim Davis. "I think our guys take great pride in putting on the jersey and they represent everyone that's ever played before them."
This year's group of Warriors will be forever linked to the Sherando program, but they have also reached the elite company of former Warriors who were fortunate enough to reach the state championship game.
Sherando's last shot at a title came in 2007, when a team led by a standout group that included quarterback Ross Metheny, running back Markeith Briscoe, tight end/defensive end Brian Barlow, lineman Joey Christine and wide receiver Derek Crosen went 10-0 during the regular season and captured the Northwestern District title.
The Warriors took care of business in the playoffs, eventually topping Powhatan, 33-21, in the semifinals to advance to the Group AA Division 4 championship game against Amherst County.
Unfortunately for Sherando, its championship hopes took a serious blow when Metheny broke his left ankle early in the second quarter. The Warriors took a 10-7 lead over Amherst shortly after Metheny's injury, but the Lancers reeled off 49 unanswered points for a dominating 56-10 victory.
"The guys in '07, I don't look at them that they lost that game," Hall said after practice on Monday. "There were some unfortunate circumstances in that game that happened. I believe we would've won that game... Sometimes bad things happen, and it is what it is and you just move on from it.
"I remember the emotion of that game and how much it hurt for our kids that they had to experience that life lesson then."
Sherando's 2007 trip to the state championship game came 11 years after the Warriors made back-to-back appearances early in the program's history in 1995 and 1996.
The football program was just three years old when Sherando made its first state championship appearance in 1995 under the guidance of former head coach Walter Barr. Led on the field by future NFL wide receiver Kelley Washington and Sherando career tackles leader Brad Payton, the Warriors went 8-2 in the regular season that year before eventually squaring off with Amherst for the state title. The Lancers would go on to win that game, 56-12.
"The '95 team, that was the third year that Sherando had been open," said current Sherando athletic director Jason Barbe, who served as the Warriors' defensive coordinator for the first five seasons of the program and as head coach from 1998-99. "We had gone 0-10 and 4-6 in the first two years. I always felt like that playoff run kind of was a beginning of the football tradition that we have here."
With the main core of the 1995 team still intact, the Warriors returned to the state championship game the next season. But Sherando again fell just short, losing to Salem, 20-12.
"We're getting ready to play in our fourth state championship game in 21 years. In my mind, to average a state championship game -- now, we haven't won one yet -- but to average a state championship every five years in any sport, I think, is a pretty good ratio," Barbe said.
Like Sherando, Dinwiddie is searching for its first state championship in football. The Generals have reached the state title game twice in the program's history as a member of the old Group AAA Division 5, once in 2000 and again in 2008.
In its first appearance, Dinwiddie fell to Heritage (Newport News), 45-7.
The Generals reappeared in the state championship eight years later for the first time under current head coach Billy Mills, who took over the program in 2005. Dinwiddie went 12-2 in 2008 behind a record-setting season by quarterback Adam Morgan, who threw for 3,499 yards and 48 touchdowns, the latter of which is the current Virginia High School League record.
Dinwiddie eventually fell to Phoebus, 37-13, in what was the first of four straight state titles for the Phantoms from 2008 to 2011.
No matter the outcome on Saturday, one team will be walking away with its first state football championship. Whether or not that team is Sherando, there is no discounting the success that the Warriors had on the field this season.
"They're successful. They have already accomplished what they need to accomplish," Barbe said. "We're going there to win. That's our plan, but that won't be the determining factor on the success of this team. And that's also something about the '95, '96 teams and the 2007 team -- the defining part for them wasn't losing in a final, it was the success they had that took them to that final."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD