Warriors primed for clash with Colonels

Sherando's LeeQuan Johnson sprints down the sideline for a touchdown run during second quarter action against Skyline in Stephens City. Rich Cooley/Daily

STEPHENS CITY — Sherando senior running back LeeQuan Johnson Jr. has noticed a bit of a difference in the Warriors’ preparation this week ahead of Friday night’s Region 4A North first-round playoff game against James Wood.

Winning each and every week has always been of the utmost importance for the Warriors — last season’s state runner-up — but Johnson says there has been a heightened sense of focus now that Sherando is back in the postseason once again.

“We’re in a race right now just to see how good we can get,” Johnson said following practice on Monday.

Last week, Sherando (8-2) claimed the Northwestern District championship outright for the second straight season with a 49-7 road win over Millbrook. The Warriors, the sixth seed in this year’s regional playoffs, will now begin the defense of their 4A North regional title against a familiar foe in No. 11 James Wood in Friday’s 7 p.m. contest.

It was against that same Colonels (5-5) team that Sherando began this season’s march to the Northwestern District title with a dominating 44-7 win back on Oct. 10. The Warriors put that game away early, taking a 28-0 lead just 10 minutes into the contest.

“I think we did a good job of playing to our potential,” Warriors head coach Bill Hall said of that win. “… When we came out versus them, sometimes there can be a lot of distractions with playing people that you know and things that are said — all the sudden you’re eliminated from what you need to focus on to be successful. I think our guys just did a great job of playing to our standard.”

Sherando senior tight end/defensive end Brogan McPartland said the Warriors have their sights set on establishing a similar start against the Colonels again on Friday.

“In the regular season … we had a lot of good games, but there were a lot of games that were slipping away from us and we had to fight back hard at the end. From now on we’re going to try to attack early and get leads,” said McPartland, who has 60 total tackles and a team-high eight sacks and was named the Northwestern District’s Defensive Player of the Year earlier this week. “We’ve been a second-half team a lot of this year, so if we can assert ourselves in the first half then I think we can finish it in the second half. I think that’s going to be our game plan.”

The Warriors ran the ball effectively in their first game against James Wood, and Sherando’s rushing attack has shown steady improvement from week to week in 2014. Sherando rushed for 408 yards against Millbrook last Friday, including a career-high 249 yards and three touchdowns from Johnson, who was named the Northwestern District Offensive Player of the Year. He now has 1,325 yards and 21 touchdowns on 245 carries this season.

Johnson, who rushed for 175 yards and three scores against the Colonels in their first meeting, said he’d be surprised if James Wood didn’t bring more defenders into the box to attempt to slow down the Warriors’ rushing attack on Friday. But Hall said Sherando is prepared to counter any such defensive focus by James Wood with a capable passing game that is led by junior quarterback Patrick Minteer (83 of 141, 1,447 yards, 19 touchdowns, three interceptions).

“Obviously I expect they’re going to make some adjustments, but you can only do so many things,” Hall said. “… Usually at this point in the season you live with what you do the best of. … I expect that’s what they’re going to do, try to execute at a very high level and we have to make sure that we attack accordingly to what their adjustments are.”

Defensively, Sherando has been stout this season, allowing 15.4 points and 237.2 yards per game. Against James Wood, the Warriors allowed 118 yards, including just 17 in the first half.

The Colonels, who went 1-9 in head coach Mark McHale’s first season last year, are led offensively by senior quarterback Brady Hepner, who has completed 41 of 81 passes for 709 yards, eight touchdowns and seven interceptions while also rushing for 207 yards and two scores.

James Wood running back Tyler Bishop leads the rushing attack with 815 yards and eight touchdowns on 123 carries.

Hall said he expects the Colonels to attempt to establish the running game Friday, calling it the “key” to James Wood’s offense.

“I think maybe they’ve shifted a little bit of their point of emphasis from what they did the first time we played them, but we’re still seeing the same concepts and we’ve practiced against those same concepts,” Hall said.

Sherando has long maintained a “living in the moment” approach to each game the Warriors play, but Hall added that there is a sense of finality about playing in the postseason — particularly for the seniors — that tends to give the team a little extra push.

“With us being the six [seed], this could possibly be the last [home] game for our guys if all the high seeds keep winning,” Hall said. “Obviously there will be a lot of emotion. Not only are they playing James Wood, [it’s] the last time they get to go down with the horse and the whole deal. Obviously emotions will be high but … that’s why our guys work hard all year long, for moments like this so they can be successful.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com