By Brad Fauber
STEPHENS CITY -- Sherando knows it's close to returning to the state championship game for the first time since 2007. Just one win away from appearing in the Class 4A title game, the Warriors are so close that senior cornerback Isaiah Williams says they can taste it.
But Sherando has done a spectacular job all season long of taking things one day at a time, refusing to wonder what could be in store for the Warriors down the road. That approach isn't changing this week, as top-seeded Sherando squares off with No. 2 Salem today in the 4A North state semifinals. The game is scheduled for a 1 p.m. kickoff at Arrowhead Stadium.
"We haven't talked about the state championship, I can tell you that," Warriors coach Bill Hall said after practice earlier this week. "I think the reason why we are where we are is because of the fact that we just focus on the moment that we're in.
"We don't talk about this being a region championship... We just focus on what it is that we have to do right at the moment. I think because of that you don't make the game bigger than what it is."
That approach has served Sherando (12-1) well this season, as the Warriors' have suffered just one setback, a 27-13 loss to Martinsburg (W.Va.) way back on Sept. 6. Sherando has reeled off 11 straight wins since then, including a 27-20 win over Courtland last Friday in the regional semifinals.
The Warriors' quest for the school's first football state championship only gets tougher this week with Salem (11-2) riding a similar hot streak.
"They're very similar to us just in terms of they're very sound offensively in what they do and defensively in what they do. They have a great tradition. They consistently have always been successful," Hall said. "They execute at a high level, so I like to think it's like looking at a mirror image... In terms of the execution, you don't find gaping holes in terms of things that you can attack here and there."
The Spartans have rolled through the postseason up to this point, winning all three of its playoff games by an average margin of 21 points. Last week, Salem beat Woodgrove, 42-25, while rolling up 345 yards rushing in the process.
Salem is averaging 306.3 yards rushing per game this season and should provide a great test for the Warriors, who are allowing just 117.6 rushing yards and 12.9 points per game this season.
The Warriors shut down Courtland's wing-T rushing attack last week, but Sherando figures to see a more traditional running game from the Spartans today.
"These past few weeks we've been seeing the wing-T and all this misdirection stuff. We're looking forward to I-formation, a downhill running back. We look forward to the challenge," said Warriors senior linebacker and Conference 21 defensive MVP George Aston, who leads the team with 157 tackles.
Junior running back Coleman Fox leads Salem's rushing attack, as he has 1,751 yards and 25 touchdowns on 177 carries. Fox has had back-to-back games of 200 rushing yards, including a 224-yard, three-touchdown performance against Woodgrove last week.
Fox has scored 10 total touchdowns in the Spartans' last three games, including scoring runs of 76, 23 and 36 yards last week.
"He's got great speed. He runs hard and he hits the hole well," Hall said of the 5-foot-11, 180-pound Fox. "Obviously those guys do a good job up front for him, creating holes. But I'll tell you what he's been able to do, is he's turned the average gain into explosive plays for them, which involves wide receivers blocking downfield and stuff like that. Any time he touches the ball he's dangerous. He can take it all the way to the house."
Despite a heavy emphasis on the running game, Salem has shown the ability to throw the football. Junior Austin Coulling has completed 105 of 149 passes for 1,426 yards, 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Coulling's favorite target is 6-foot junior Isaiah Parker, who has hauled in 49 catches for 693 yards and seven touchdowns.
Sherando's offense boasts plenty of playmakers of its own, and three Warriors -- LeeQuan Johnson Jr. (1,108 rushing yards, 15 TDs), Aston (775 rushing yards, 23 TDs) and quarterback Reid Entsminger (720 yards, 6 TDs) -- have topped the 700-yard rushing mark this season.
Entsminger has also completed 105 of 179 passes for 2,020 yards, 19 touchdowns and four interceptions. Senior receiver Adam Whitacre leads the Warriors with 25 catches for 507 yards and seven touchdowns.
The winner of today's game advances to the state championship next Saturday against the winner of the 4A South matchup between Dinwiddie and Heritage (Newport News). The state championship will be played at Liberty University.
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD