Warriors rally past Judges

By Jim Laise –sports@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER-Earlier last week, Sherando head coach Bill Hall told his team it was unlikely it would put away Handley quickly, but if they persevered, a victory would belong to the Warriors by game’s end.

“He told us that Handley wasn’t a team we would get out in front of and stay there, but if we stuck to our game plan and played hard for four quarters we would win,” Sherando running back LeeQuan Johnson said.

As it turned out Hall was right. Sherando knocked off Handley 43-29 on Saturday afternoon at the home team’s bowl, outscoring the Judges 29-0 in the final 13 minutes, 20 seconds to take its fourth straight victory in the Winchester City-Frederick County rivalry. It’s the first time the Warriors, 6-2 overall, 2-0 in the Northwestern District, have defeated their league rivals four straight times in the 21-game history of the series.

Earlier, from 1998-2003, the Judges (3-4, 0-1) had won six consecutively against the Warriors.

Coming in, Sherando, a 44-7 victor over county and district challenger James Wood a week ago, was ranked seventh in the Region 4A North power ratings, while Handley, which had last week off, was 16th.

The ratings seemed reversed at first. The Judges were in charge, 29-14, with 1:20 showing on a third-quarter clock. However, Sherando unrolled all those unanswered points the rest of the way to win going away.

“Shoot,” Hall said, toeing the turf at the Bowl, “we seemed a little unsure of ourselves early, but it’s a positive of this team to play against adversity and hold on for something good. That was what they did today.”

Sherando, which appeared in the 4A state championship game in 2013, has overcome either halftime or third-quarter deficits in four of its six victories this season.

“There was some nervousness. We were kind of looking at each other in the huddle as if to say, ‘What’s going on?’ But the defense made some stops and one thing turned into another and we were on our way,” said Sherando quarterback Patrick Minteer (6 of 8 passes, 100 yards, 1 TD).

Minteer, a junior who threw just two passes in the first half, connected with tight end Dylan Rivers for a 7-yard touchdown pass with 3:54 remaining in the game to put the Warriors ahead for good at 36-29.

Out of an offensive set called “Virginia,” Minteer play-actioned and threaded the ball to the tight end for the go-ahead score.

“I talked to Patrick right before the half,” said Johnson. “I said, ‘Don’t get your head down, we can do this.'”

They did with a major assist from the 6-foot, 210-pound senior. Johnson ripped off 173 yards and four scores on 38 carries. He also caught a swing pass for 51 yards in the second half.

Taking direct snaps intermittently throughout the game for the first time this year, Johnson touched the ball on all but 15 of the Warriors 54 offensive plays. His 224 all-purpose yards represented the bulk of his team’s total output of 299 yards on the day. He was responsible for 26 points.

This was the sixth straight game that Johnson, who briefly had the wind knocked out of him late in the game, had gone for 100 or more yards and had at least one touchdown.

“I kept bugging coach and bugging coach — ‘Let me have the ball’ — and so he let me take the snap from the center to speed up our offense,” Johnson said with a smile outside the winners’ locker room.

“What can you say about him?” said Hall. “He just seems to get stronger the more he carries the ball.”

This is precisely what the running back did on Sherando’s second possession of the game.

Already Handley had taken a 7-0 lead when senior D.J. Frisby bulled over from the 2-yard line with 5:58 left in the opening quarter.

With Johnson operating in the shotgun, he carried the ball five straight times though Sherando was forced to punt at the end of the 14-play drive.

This led to what a most peculiar second quarter.

On the last play of the first quarter, Handley quarterback Will Dearing, who passed for 150 yards and two scores and ran for 66 more, found a receiver for a 24-yard throw that got the Judges off their own 2-yard line.

He followed this with a 15-yard strike to Justin Washington (6 catches, 45 yards and a TD) to move the possession to the Handley 41 as the second-quarter clock began to roll.

Frisby (14 carries, 90 yards and a TD) came right back to streak 33 yards for a third straight first down to the Sherando 18.

“They just have so many weapons it’s hard to stop all of them at once,” said Hall. “We were confused on some alignments and things. Things we’ll have to work out.”

The Sherando defense held, but Handley’s Nick Marshall came on to boom a 35-yard field goal and a 10-0 advantage with 9:54 remaining in the half.

The Warriors had made some uncharacteristic penalties in the first period (three for 20 yards), so perhaps kick returner Joshua Ojo took matters into his own hands on the Judges’ ensuing kickoff.

Taking the kick at his own 18, the speedy senior headed right then cut it up the gut for an 82-yard return for a score with 9:45 left in the first half.

Handley’s Marshall’s field goal and Ojo’s return occurred nine seconds apart, but the blitzkrieg would not end there.

After the Judges returned the following kickoff to their own 43, Dearing — who in the second half, completed six straight attempts — spied Dontae Mauck over the middle. The senior receiver took the ball up the seam for a 57-yard score for a 16-7 lead with 9:29 to go in the first half.

The crowd had just settled back because Handley had stopped a Warrior possession on downs, but the Judges fumbled the punt return and Ojo recovered.

Not to be out-done, Minteer had difficulty handling a high snap out of the shotgun and the ball bounced back to the Judges. Handley’s Marquaye Jackson recovered.

The next time Sherando got possession, it made sure to complete its mission.

With the first-half clock running down, the Warriors drove 55 yards. Sherando capped off the drive with a 1-yard Johnson TD run to trail 16-14 at intermission.

Handley, which received the second-half kickoff, didn’t fool around either.

With the idea of keeping the Sherando offense off the field, Dearing helped escort a 13-play, 65-yard TD drive to start things off.

Mauck (4 receptions, 74 yards, 2 touchdowns) fought off Sherando defender Cordell Peterson in the end zone to haul in an 18-yard pass for a 23-14 lead with 6:04 remaining in the third quarter.

It was starting to seem like the day belonged to Handley, which honored several members of its 2014 Hall of Fame class at halftime.

The Judges got good field position at the Sherando 44, and nine plays later Dearing connected with Washington on the right side of the end zone for a 6-yard scoring pass and a 29-14 lead with 1:20 showing in the third.

Just as Hall had predicted, the Warriors kept working and their fortunes soon began to turn.

Minteer flipped a screen pass which Johnson carried for 51 yards to the Handley 3-yard line, and on second-and-goal from the 2 the back carried over for the score. That cut the lead to 29-21 with 18.5 seconds showing on the third quarter clock.

Sherando stopped Handley and regained possession with plenty of time remaining in the game.

Minteer found tight end Brogan McPartland for a 20-yard gain to the Handley 26 and then Johnson rushed 14 yards to the 12-yard line. On third-and-goal from the 1-yard line, again the running back plunged over for the TD with 9:51 showing in the game.

Perhaps the loudest roar of the day to this point came from the visitors’ side as the senior carried the ball in for the two-point conversion to tie the game at 29.

Then came the chorus of “Defense, Defense!” from the Warrior partisans and the Warriors buckled down.

“I think we got some stops on defense and that let us have some momentum on offense. Everybody started to pick it up,” Minteer said.

“We got one stop, then another,” said Hall, “That’s what we needed.”

The Warriors got possession with 7:12 showing and in three minutes, 18 seconds, they were in the end zone again. They converted two third downs to set up the Minteer-Rivers combination. The kick left them ahead by seven with 3:54 to go.

Handley’s Frisby mishandled a punt. Sherando’s John Doleman recovered and Johnson finished off his day with a 28-yard touchdown run.

“I think we showed a lot of heart. We’ve been down on occasion but most of the time we’ve come back,” Hall said. “This was an example.”