Warriors expect physical test against Liberty

By Brad Fauber

STEPHENS CITY — Sherando and Liberty match-ups on the football field always include one prevailing theme — physicality.

The Warriors expect nothing less than the usual when the Eagles come to Arrowhead Stadium for tonight’s 7 p.m. kickoff.

“We’ve played for a long time and one thing that’s consistent about all the games is the fact that it’s always going to be very physical,” said Warriors head coach Bill Hall, who picked up his 100th career coaching win in Sherando’s 38-14 win over Jefferson (W.Va.) last week. “I think both football teams have always been well coached and fundamental, so it comes down to a lot of heart on the field. When you watch those games, I think it’s evident that that’s what you see.”

Sherando and Liberty have met four times over the last two seasons, including twice in the playoffs. The Warriors beat the Eagles in the second round of the Region 4A North playoffs last season and hold a 3-1 record against Liberty since 2012.

The Warriors (4-1) have won three straight games — including two solid wins against Kettle Run and Jefferson — after losing to West Virginia powerhouse Martinsburg in Week 2, and Sherando knows it faces a challenge in keeping that streak going against an Eagles squad that is 3-1 this season.

Liberty suffered its first loss of the season last Friday against 5A Broad Run, 38-35.

“We’ve had two tough games the past two weeks and now we’ve got another one,” said Sherando linebacker Tyler Tinsman. “We’ve got to go out there and play hard every down. We’ve got to come out ready to play because they’re going to give it to us.”

Sherando’s defense — which is allowing 15.6 points and 227.6 yards per game this season — has been stout for most of the season, and the Warriors will need to keep that momentum going against Liberty.

The Eagles are averaging 42.3 points per game this season.

Liberty’s offense uses multiple looks and operates at a high tempo, Hall said, and features a powerful rushing attack led by the senior running back tandem of T.J. Hogan (61 carries, 424 yards, 6 TDs) and Martin Parker (45 carries, 486 yards, 7 TDs).

Eagles junior quarterback Aaron Walters has passed for 438 yards and two touchdowns and has rushed for 384 yards and seven scores.

“They run the ball a lot, so we’re just working on filling gaps hard so they can’t break it outside, filling gaps so that they can’t get cutbacks and stuff,” said Tinsman, who is second on the team with 37 tackles. “Everybody just has to do their job. That’s what we’ve been working on. And when everybody does their job we’re good, but when one person messes up everything falls apart.”

Sherando’s offense has established an efficient rushing attack of its own over the last three weeks, led by senior running back LeeQuan Johnson Jr.

Johnson has carried 99 times for 484 yards and nine touchdowns this season and has provided a good complement to a Warriors passing game that is led by junior quarterback Patrick Minteer (39 of 67 passing, 744 yards, 10 TDs, one interception).

Sherando is averaging 31 points per game.

“Our line up front every week … they’ve gotten progressively better and that’s the only reason why our run game’s increased, because those guys decided ‘we’re going to work really hard,'” Johnson said. “Once they showed everyone that they were going to get it done, that motivated the rest of us. It’s just been really good. We’ve just gotten better as a team.”

The Warriors will need to maintain that efficiency against a Liberty defense that allowed just seven points in its first three games.

Hall said the Eagles have great size up front on both sides of the ball — led by University of Virginia commit R.J. Proctor, a 6-foot-4, 315-pound lineman — and added that Liberty’s defense is “good at all three levels.”

Hogan leads Liberty’s defense with 34 tackles this season.

“I think it’s important that we stay on schedule,” Hall said. “We’re not the type of offense that can operate in second-and-long, third-and-long. We need to be in third-and-manageable. … Obviously we don’t care if we do the run to set up the pass or pass to set up the run, both those components have to be part of the game plan and have to be successful, and we have to be efficient.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or bfauber@nvdaily.com