Warriors clinch share of district title with victory
By Tommy Keeler Jr.
STEPHENS CITY — With a Northwestern District championship on the line, Sherando’s offensive line took over in the second half against Skyline.
The Warriors controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball to pull out a 28-19 Northwestern District victory over Skyline on Friday night. The Warriors have clinched at least a share of the district title, a win over Millbrook next week would give them the outright title for the second straight year.
“This was big,” Sherando senior running back LeeQuan Johnson Jr. said. “The whole week we said this was a championship game, so we had to compete at a championship level. I think that tonight we did that.”
With the game tied at 13-13 at the half, the Warriors came out and ran the ball four times on a six-play drive to move the ball to the Skyline 19-yard line. However, a fumble on the sixth play gave the ball back to the Hawks.
Three plays later, Sherando’s John Doleman intercepted Skyline quarterback Corban Ruch’s pass and returned it to the Skyline 14-yard line.
Sherando used six plays to take a 21-13 lead on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Patrick Minteer to Adam Whitacre with 4:27 left in the third quarter. Seth Smith ran in the two-point conversion for the eight-point edge.
After an interception by Sherando’s Dylan Rivers, the Warriors extended the lead to 28-13. Johnson scored on a 19-yard run with 11:29 left in the game to cap off the drive.
Johnson ran for 78 yards in the second half on 15 carries, and finished the game 118 yards on 29 carries.
“Us establishing a physical run game, especially in the second half, set the tempo for the rest of the game,” Sherando coach Bill Hall said.
The Hawks (7-3, 3-1 Northwestern) didn’t go away quietly. A touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Jamal Parker for a 43-yard score with 7:35 left, but the extra point was blocked to give Sherando a 28-19 lead.
Skyline was able to get the ball back with 5:39 left, but Sherando sophomore Cordell Peterson intercepted Ruch’s pass to seal the win. Peterson had two of Sherando’s five interceptions against the Hawks.
“When it was coming to me I just thought back to practice,” Peterson said. “I just wanted to do exactly what my coaches taught me to do. I just want to make the best of my opportunities and play in the moment.”
The Warriors (7-2, 3-0) took the early lead on a 10-play drive after they recovered a fumble on a punt. Facing fourth-and-goal from the Skyline 8-yard line, Minteer found Mitchell Shiley in the end zone for the score and a 6-0 lead with 23 seconds left in the opening quarter.
The Hawks came right back as Parker took Ruch’s short pass and went 45 yards to tie the game with 9:58 left in the first half.
Skyline took the lead on a nine-play 79-yard drive. Ruch floated a pass right into the outstretched hands of tight end Green Butler who took it in for the 41-yard touchdown with 3:57 left in the first half.
The Warriors came right back and tied the game up with 1:41 left. Johnson took Minteer’s screen pass and ran down the sidelines for a 54-yard score to tie the game at 13-13.
“My line and my receivers, they just did an awesome job going out there and blocking,” Johnson said. “They set the edge, and they just gave me a crease where I could get down the sidelines. I looked back and I saw a guy coming, and I just thought ‘these dudes blocked for me, so I gotta score.'”
The loss snapped Skyline’s five-game win streak. Throughout the streak Skyline had been very successful with the option-read play, but the Warriors were able to shut down the run game on Friday. Skyline finished with only 45 yards rushing.
“We definitely wanted to run the ball more, but they did a good job against us,” Skyline head coach Heath Gilbert said. “Even with five in a box they were able to stop our run, which is tough. You got to give their kids credit for doing that.”
“I think our defense played really good,” Hall said. “Up front, I think our front did a great job. For the most part, they did a great job with assignment football. I think the fact that we could stop the run with five [in the box], and play a lot in coverage, was obviously a big part in that ballgame.”
Parker finished with five receptions for 154 yards and two touchdowns.
Skyline has the week off, but will be playing in the first round of the playoffs in two weeks. Gilbert said he was happy with how his players competed against the Warriors.
“We are proud of them,” Gilbert said. “We told them it’s OK to feel disappointed, but the last thing you should do is put your head down and not be proud of what we did. We competed and that’s all we ask these kids to do.”
Minteer threw for 140 yards for the Warriors. Sherando plays at Millbrook next week in the regular-season finale.
“We’re just going to focus on us next week,” Johnson said. “We’re going to watch film and correct everything we messed up on, and just get better as a team.”
Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org