Warriors fall to Eagles

By Jim Laise – sports@nvdaily.com

STEPHENS CITY — It’s called a simple read play and Liberty quarterback Aaron Walters read it simply well in the first half as the Eagles scored all the points they need in toppling Sherando, 28-14, on Friday night at Arrowhead Stadium.

Walters, a junior, came into the game with 384 yards rushing in four games. Against a stout Warrior (4-2) defense, the quarterback totaled 314 yards on 12 carries, good enough for three touchdowns. He ran for 228 of those in the first half when the visitors led by the same 14 points they did when the game was over.

“It’s a simple read,” said winning coach Sean Finnerty, whose team is 4-1. “He reads the guy on defense and then, depending on what that man does, he either pitches it or keeps it.”

Playing without leading rusher Martin Parker, who was suspended for this game after acquiring two unsportsmanlike penalties last week, Walters decided to keep the ball a good bit on this rainy night — at least in the first half.

Playing stout defense in the second half, as the Warriors have done most of the season, the little signal-caller was not nearly as effective, but by then, it mattered little as Liberty was playing solid defense of its own.

“He was reading his man in the first half, and obviously we weren’t getting there,” Sherando coach Bill Hall said. “I’m not going to go into how we changed our scheme in the second half, but obviously it worked.”

Neither team scored in a second half when the rain, which fell steadily from about 90 minutes to kick off to halftime, had subsided.

But in the first 24 minutes, it was a different story. On the night, Walters carried eight times on plays of 10 yards or more. When Sherando took away the pitch men, the quarterback simply kept it himself, often going right up the gut against a Warrior defense which was guarding the edges.

“I’m worn out,” Walters said immediately after the game. Indeed a teammate helped him into a jubilant post-game locker room.

Sherando depended on workhorse LeeQuan Johnson, who carried 30 times for 119 yards.

Warrior quarterback Patrick Minteer connected on 13 of 18 passes for 152 yards, including a 70-yard screen pass to Johnson early in the game.

In fact, during the worst of the rain in the first half, the 6-foot, 210-pound Johnson touched the ball seven straight times as the Warriors scored first in what at first appeared to be a shootout.

The Minteer-to-Johnson (4 catches, 82 yards) 70-yarder worked for the touchdown and Angel Rodriguez added the point-after to give the Warriors a 7-0 lead with 5:31 showing in the first quarter.

But when Liberty got the ball back, Walters made short work of it by barreling up the middle for a 58-yard scoring dash with 4:34 left in the first quarter.

With Johnson doing most of the work, Sherando moved the ball down to the Liberty 28 where it turned it around on downs. Again, on the first play from scrimmage, Walters dashed 59 yards for his second score of the night for a 14-7 advantage with 10:19 showing in the first half.

Sherando was forced to punt and Liberty went back to work. It was not a long toil as, after a loss of five yards, Walters sprinted 65 yards to set up his third score, this one for 13 yards for a 21-7 lead with 7:13 remaining in the half.

The Warriors finally got on the scoreboard at the end of a 53-yard scoring drive on 10 plays. Josh Ojo picked up 23 yards on a double-reverse — the drive’s top play — but Johnson picked up the short stuff. The senior carried seven straight times. His last rush was good for six yards and the Warriors’ second score of the night to cut the lead to 21-14 with 2:53 left in the half.

But Liberty, which lost twice to Sherando in 2013 as the Warriors made their drive to the state championship game, was not done.

Walters tore off a 31-yard run to the Sherando 25, and then a pitch to Hakeem Johnson went for 10 more yards.

On third-and-goal from the Sherando 4, Ja’Quan Sinclair carried it over. He was stood up near the goal line by the Warrior interior, but second-effort got him into the end zone for a 28-14 lead with 19 seconds to go to intermission.

With the rain having died down, Hall decided to go to the air, but a screen pass to Johnson was fumbled away and Liberty recovered. It was one of two fumbles for the Warriors.

In the fourth quarter, Sherando was driving for a touchdown which would have cut the Eagles lead, but again Johnson fumbled with 5:06 left in the game.

Walters was good for one more run of 54 yards which pretty much salted the game away.

“They run the ball very well and pretty much came at us with all their stuff,” Finnerty said. “We knew we were going to give up some yards. And even when they scored, you didn’t see any of our heads drop. We just kept playing.”

Liberty lost to Class 5A Broad Run a week ago, 38-35, when the then-12th-ranked school in The Washington Post Top 25 scored with eight seconds to go.

“I think that set us up for this game,” said Finnerty. “We had a good week of practice and we came back to win on the road.”

“If we’re going to accomplish what we want to accomplish, we have to learn from games like this — and we will,”Hall said.