Warriors take on Judges in key district clash

By Brad Fauber

STEPHENS CITY — Sherando’s football team bounced back with a blowout win over James Wood last week. Now the Warriors turn their attention to rival Handley for Saturday’s 1 p.m. contest.

Sherando currently ranks seventh in the latest Virginia High School League Group 4A playoff power rankings and the Judges are right on the cusp of postseason eligibility at 16th, making Saturday’s match-up an important one for both teams.

“It’s just another game,” Warriors junior quarterback Patrick Minteer said. “We’ve got to go out and we’ve got to practice well. We’ve got to go out and we’ve got to play well. It’s another team. It’s a good team. I have a lot of respect for Handley and how they play. We’ve just got to go out there and do what we’ve been coached to do and execute well.”

The Warriors are coming off a 44-7 win over James Wood, a win that provided Sherando (4-2, 1-0 Northwestern) with a nice rebound from its loss to Liberty the previous week and helped the Warriors get off on the right foot in the Northwestern District race.

Sherando’s defense was stout in the win, as the Warriors allowed just 118 yards including 17 in the first half.

The Warriors figure to face a tougher test against Handley (3-3, 0-0) Saturday, as the Judges feature plenty of playmakers on an offense that is averaging 343.5 yards and 25 points per game so far this season.

Judges quarterback Will Dearing has completed 71 of 132 passes for 1,165 yards and eight touchdowns this season, while completing at least 12 passes to four different players.

Dontae Mauck leads Handley with 24 catches for 490 yards and seven touchdowns, while running back D.J. Frisby has 172 yards and a touchdown receiving in addition to 388 yards and a score on the ground.

Dynamic senior wide receiver Justin Washington also made his season debut for Handley in a loss to Kettle Run two weeks ago after spending most of the first half of the season recovering from a preseason injury.

Dearing has been susceptible to turnovers this season, as he’s thrown 13 interceptions. He threw four picks and lost a fumble in the Judges’ loss to Kettle Run.

Sherando defensive lineman Brogan McPartland said it will be important for the Warriors to generate a good pass rush against Handley.

“As much as they like to throw the ball, getting pressure on the quarterback, getting him antsy in the pocket is definitely going to be a big goal of ours,” said McPartland, who has four sacks this season.

Warriors head coach Bill Hall said Handley’s offense is similar to that run by Jefferson (W.Va.), which Sherando shut down in the second half en route to a 38-14 win back on Sept. 26.

“[They’re] similar from a standpoint [that] Jefferson had a couple good receivers, and the thing about Handley is they have a lot of really good receivers,” Hall said. “They spread you out just as Jefferson does, so similar from that standpoint, athletes and spread. Different from a schematical standpoint in terms of what they try to do with their athletes. But obviously the more practice you get versus spread and athletes, the better because obviously it’s hard to simulate that in practice.”

Sherando’s running game continued its recent success in last week’s win, as the Warriors racked up 238 yards on the ground as part of its 391-yard performance.

Senior running back LeeQuan Johnson Jr. continues to lead the way and appears to be hitting his stride after a relatively slow start to the season. Johnson has 627 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns on 133 carries.

“I think he’s progressed every game this year, which has been a good thing for us,” Hall said. “I don’t think he or I would say that he started off as well as we would’ve liked just because our expectations were so high for him. It was about him being a complete back in all phases of the ballgame. I think he’s really progressed. I think he’s doing a really good job every week now.”

Hall said part of that rushing success has come as the Warriors have established more stability along the offensive line.

Sherando is averaging 35.5 points and 280.5 yards per game this season, while Handley’s defense is allowing 19 points and 250.7 yards per contest. The Judges, who are coming off a bye last week, have two shutouts this season but have also allowed 35 and 46 points in two of their three losses.

“I think you always see a couple variables, especially off of a bye week. But they’re going to do what they do and we’re going to do what we do,” Hall said. “I mean, there’s always a couple plays here and there that may be a little different, but it’s about playing fundamental football. It’s about executing and everybody doing their job.”

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