Warriors put season on the line against rival Pioneers

Washington's Jordan King, left, and Tyler Titus, right, try to bring down Sherando's T.J. Washington on a long run during a game earlier this season in Stephens City. Rich Cooley/Daily

STEPHENS CITY – It’s all on the line for Sherando High School’s football team tonight.

The Warriors travel to take on Millbrook in a 7 p.m. contest that will carry more baggage than its usual rivalry atmosphere. Ranked 15th in the latest Virginia High School League Group 4A West Region playoff ratings (the Warriors are 2.4 points back of the 12th and final playoff spot), Sherando needs a victory over the surging Pioneers to even have a chance at earning its eighth straight postseason appearance.

Sherando’s streak of three straight Northwestern District titles is on the line, as is the Warriors run of 12 consecutive winning seasons and their four-game winning streak over Millbrook.

“Right now it’s win or go home so that’s been our mentality all week. We’ve just gotta be 1-0 this week,” Warriors senior linebacker/tight end Dylan Rivers said following practice on Tuesday.

“It’s win or lose so it’s obviously a big deal. It’s also a rivalry game. Also, I’ve never lost to a local school all my four years and I don’t plan on doing it now.”

If Rivers and the Warriors (5-4, 3-0 Northwestern) plan to keep their many streaks alive, they will need to find a way to slow down the explosive Pioneers (8-1, 3-0), who are pushing toward their first outright Northwestern District championship in school history.

Millbrook, a 56-6 winner over Handley last Saturday, is averaging 45.1 points per game this season behind an offense led by senior running back and University of Virginia commit P.K. Kier – who did not dress for last week’s game – and sophomore Savon Smith, the Pioneers’ leading rusher.

Since a 50-15 loss at Woodgrove earlier this fall, the Pioneers have won four straight and have out-scored opponents 239-46 while scoring at least 56 points in each of those games.

“They have a lot of fast guys and they’ve been able to get outside on a lot of teams, and that’s helping them a lot,” Sherando senior safety Nathan Wagner said.

“We’re gonna make sure to set the edge on them and make sure we’re physical with them and make them play our game of football instead of theirs.”

The Warriors, who are allowing 252.7 yards of offense and 162.3 yards rushing per game, are wary of Millbrook’s penchant for using jet sweeps but Sherando head coach Bill Hall said defending against that requires more than just setting the edge.

“As much as they stretch you horizontally it’s the cutback that’s really killed a lot of people,” Hall said. “And so not that you don’t have to worry about the jet, but the cutback off of the jet when they put their foot in and they’re cutting back. Their guys do a good job of once they run out of real estate, put their foot in the ground, start to penetrate the defense and cut back. So it really requires all of your people to make sure that they’re fitting properly, just because you may get the edge set but the next thing you know nobody’s following backside of the play and that’s when it breaks. So it’s just imperative to get everybody running to the ball and you fit properly on it.”

Sherando is coming off its own blowout victory a week ago, a 76-13 thumping of Skyline in which the Warriors – playing without starting quarterback Hunter Entsminger (1,091 yards passing, 10 touchdowns) – piled up 502 yards rushing and averaged over 20 yards per carry.

Rivers, who carried five times for 115 yards and two touchdowns – including a 99-yard scoring run – last week while taking multiple snaps from the wildcat formation, said he expects the Warriors to continue to run the football against a Millbrook defense that has allowed just 6 points over the last two weeks.

“I think we’re gonna pound the rock like we usually do, (like) we have been doing,” said Rivers, who has rushed for eight touchdowns while serving as the team’s leading receiver (285 yards, four touchdowns) and tackler (90 total, 20 tackles for loss). “The past couple games I thought we’ve done well running the ball and I think we’re gonna keep doing that. And they run one high safety so we take that to our advantage.”

Sherando is averaging 342.1 yards of offense per game, including 232.4 rushing per contest. Sophomore running back T.J. Washington leads the Warriors’ ground attack with 1,123 yards and 16 touchdowns while averaging 8 yards per carry. Washington also has returned three punts for touchdowns this season, including one against Skyline.

Hall said there will be three keys to victory against Millbrook tonight.

“I think when you look at big games you can always point back to hidden yards in special teams or big plays in special teams, who has more big plays or limits them and then obviously turnover ratio is always huge,” said Hall, whose team is plus-10 in turnover margin.

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