Warriors set to renew rivalry with Liberty in battle of unbeatens
STEPHENS CITY – The matchups between Sherando and Liberty high schools on the football field emerged as quite the rivalry several years ago. Those two schools will clash for the first time in three years – now as Class 4 Northwestern District rivals – with tonight’s 7 p.m. kickoff in Bealeton.
During a three-year stretch from 2012 to 2014, Sherando and Liberty met six times and took turns knocking each other out of the playoffs. Liberty snapped a nine-game losing streak to the Warriors with a win in the Group AA, Region II first round in 2012. The next season, Sherando returned the favor en route to a spot in the Group 4A state championship game. In 2014, Liberty swept the season series with the Warriors, including a second-round win in the Region 4A North playoffs.
The two teams haven’t played since, and you can count Sherando head coach Bill Hall among those eager to renew that rivalry Friday night in a battle of two 4-0 teams.
“These are the type of games you like to play in, especially with a coach you know (Liberty head coach Sean Finnerty) and a team that has tradition because you like to test yourself against people that are really good,” Hall said Wednesday. “I think it’s kind of been a nice progression for us this year just in terms of how our opponents keep getting better and better. … This will be a good test and they’re undefeated right now for a reason, so, looking forward to it.”
Sherando (1-0 against Class 4 Northwestern District competition) has yet to play a close game in 2017, as the Warriors have outscored opponents 233-47 through their first four contests after a 50-20 win over Loudoun Valley last week.
Each of Sherando’s last two wins came at home, and Friday’s game against the Eagles is just the second road trip of the season for the Warriors.
“It’s gotta be the same mindset as the home game,” Sherando senior linebacker Michael Perry said of playing a tough team on the road. “It’s just like playing another football game. We’ve gotta be dialed in, locked in, play good football and the result will come.”
In the past, Hall said he knew Liberty football teams for being well coached, hardworking and big up front. When he watches the 2017 Eagles, Hall said, he sees nothing has changed.
“They’ve got two guys over 300 (pounds), a couple guys 280, so I mean they’re huge on the front,” Hall said. “They’re a little inexperienced at their skill positions but they’ve got potential there. I think they’re relying heavily on the big guys up front until those guys develop a little bit.”
The Eagles, who have likewise ridden lopsided wins through the early part of their schedule – the lone exception being a 21-12 victory over Courtland on Sept. 1 – used eight different backs, led by senior running back Lester Parker, to churn out over 300 yards rushing in a 41-0 win over Chancellor last week.
Hall said Liberty seems to prefer using the run to set up the pass and stay ahead of the chains, adding that Sherando’s job defensively would be to try to put the Eagles in a position where they’re forced to throw the football to sustain drives rather than allowing Liberty to “pass on their terms.”
Warriors senior defensive back/receiver Aaron Banks said he expects “hard-nosed” football from Liberty’s offense and that physicality on Sherando’s part is a must.
The Warriors are allowing just 176.3 yards per game, including only 47.8 rushing, and have forced 12 turnovers through four games.
“Other teams, they might throw the ball and we can sag off in coverage and be a little bit more relaxed on defense. This time we’ve gotta pack it in,” Banks said. “Everybody has to go hard and do their job or else there’s a hole.”
Liberty’s defense, which operates out of a 4-2-5 base, Hall said, is allowing only 6.3 points per game and has already posted two shutouts. Sherando, meanwhile, is averaging 414 yards per game behind a balanced offensive attack.
Hall said the Eagles show variety out of the 4-2-5, sometimes using a 4-4 look or a 4-3 with two high safeties, putting more emphasis on Sherando junior quarterback Hunter Entsminger’s ability to recognize the variance in pass coverage.
“That’s kind of a strong point of ours, is Hunter does a good job with that and we have concepts that attack all coverages,” Hall said of Entsminger, who has completed 34 of 47 passes for 816 yards, 10 touchdowns and no interceptions.
“It seems like every week we give them more information – our whole team, those skill guys, more information. They’ve done a good job responding, been able to highlight a lot of different guys and Hunter’s been the key to that because he knows where to look.”
Hall added that in big games he more closely monitors turnover ratio, the battle at the line of scrimmage and special teams (Sherando has four kick/punt return touchdowns already this season).
“If you can win the line of scrimmage, if you’re plus turnover, then all the sudden it ups your chances. Then if you can create explosive plays and flip the field with (special teams) then that’s gonna be big,” Hall said.
“One thing, they have a really good kicker. Their punter and their kickoff guy … has a real live leg, so they can flip the field. It’ll be important that we do a good job with our returns and things like that.”