By Brad Fauber
LYNCHBURG -- Sherando's quest for its first football state championship came to a dreary end on a cold, rainy evening on Saturday at Liberty University.
The Warriors were beaten soundly by Dinwiddie in all phases of Saturday's 4A state championship game, as the Generals rolled to a 56-14 win behind an opportunistic defense and uncharacteristically sloppy play by Sherando.
The Warriors -- who had turned the ball over just 13 times in their first 14 games this season -- were forced into five turnovers against Dinwiddie, three of which came inside Sherando's own 25-yard line. The Generals took advantage by turning all five of those Sherando miscues into touchdowns.
Sherando's defense, in addition to facing the challenge of a handful of short fields against Dinwiddie's dangerous offense, suffered from poor tackling all game long. The Generals finished with 442 yards of total offense.
"It was obvious, if you've seen us play any other game this year, that we didn't come out and play our best game today," Warriors senior running back/linebacker George Aston said. "But still give full credit to Dinwiddie. They're a great team. But we just had some bad field position, our defense didn't get the best chances on the field. But it still doesn't give an excuse for the way we tackled."
Things began well for Sherando (13-2) on Saturday, as the Warriors halted Dinwiddie's game-opening drive at the Sherando 20. The Warriors then used six straight running plays to reach Dinwiddie's 35 before Sherando senior quarterback Reid Entsminger connected with senior fullback Daniel Eppard on a 35-yard touchdown pass on a fourth-and-6 play to give the Warriors a quick 7-0 lead.
On the play, Entsminger faked a handoff to junior LeeQuan Johnson and rolled to his right before finding Eppard on a quick slant near the right hash. Eppard got around the edge of the Generals' defense and tight-roped the sideline into the end zone.
"We put in a new formation where I would line up on the line of scrimmage and I would go out to the flat as fast as possible, and Reid was going to read the defensive end," said Eppard, who finished with 79 total yards and a score. "If [the defensive end] was coming with quick pressure then [Entsminger] was going to flip it out to me. I knew if I caught it I had two receivers coming back to block for me. I just got to the edge and turned up field."
Sherando appeared to hold Dinwiddie (15-0) to a three-and-out on the Generals' ensuing possession, but the game shifted dramatically when Dinwiddie senior Ja'Quan Poarch perfectly executed a fake punt on fourth down. Poarch appeared to be setting up a rugby-style punt as he rolled to his right, but he tucked the football and sprinted 49-yards down to the Warriors' 12. Dinwiddie tied the game at 7-all four plays later on a 1-yard run by Sadarius Williams with 2:04 to play in the first quarter.
Generals head coach Billy Mills said he and Poarch had discussed the possibility of using a fake punt earlier this week, but even Mills was surprised to see Poarch off and running on Saturday.
"I actually had forgotten about it until I saw him running down the field," Mills said. "He kind of got things turned around."
Williams' scoring run was the first of four touchdowns for Dinwiddie in a seven-minute span, as the Generals took advantage of a pair of Sherando turnovers late in the first quarter and early in the second.
On the Warriors' second drive of the game, Dinwiddie recovered a fumble at Sherando's 20 and took a 14-7 lead on a six-yard scoring run by Poarch with 34 seconds left in the first quarter. The Generals followed that with an 87-yard touchdown drive early in the second, and a Sherando interception set up a 19-yard scoring drive for Dinwiddie that put the Generals up 28-7 with seven minutes left in the first half.
"When the ballgame is tight then you can stay in your game plan. All the sudden, when they extend that lead then it kind of gets you out of your comfort zone in terms of what we were willing to do today, and also what we wanted to do based on what the conditions were today," Warriors coach Bill Hall said.
Sherando finished with 316 total yards of offense, including 228 yards rushing.
Things continued to spiral out of control for Sherando late in the second quarter, as Entsminger (8 for 19, 88 yards, TD, three interceptions) was pressured into a poor pass that was intercepted by Dinwiddie's Logan Harper at the Warriors' 2. The Generals scored on a run by quarterback Ronald Kearney on the next play to take a 35-7 lead into halftime.
Dinwiddie had four different players run for at least one touchdown on Saturday, including two scores apiece by Williams (16 carries, 128 yards) and Rashaad Goodwyn (7 carries, 62 yards). The Generals finished with 298 yards rushing.
"It was hard to get a grip on the football to throw it. It was hard to tackle. It was hard to do anything when it's wet," Entsminger said, "especially when its freezing rain and its cold, but its still no excuse for us missing all those tackles and the interceptions thrown."
Dinwiddie turned another Sherando fumble into a long touchdown drive in the third quarter, and the Warriors finally found the end zone again with a 12-play, 86-yard drive that was capped by a 3-yard run by Aston (18 carries, 136 yards) with 10:36 to play in the fourth quarter.
The Generals closed out the game with touchdown passes of 23 and 16 yards by Kearney (11-for-16, 144 yards, 2 TDs).
"They have good speed ... but I don't think speed affects us as much as maybe some lack of execution on our part in terms of tackling," Hall said. "We had people in proper position, but you have to execute. That's up to our guys to make plays, and their guys have to make plays. Their kids made more plays than ours did."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org