Warriors face off with Dominion in return to playoffs

Michael Perry

STEPHENS CITY – Sherando High School’s football team missed out on the playoffs last season, snapping a string of seven straight seasons with a playoff appearance for the Warriors. That proud program is back in the postseason in 2017.

Sherando improved its win total by two games this fall and earned itself the fourth seed in the six-team Region 4C playoff field, with a home game against No. 5 Dominion on tap for 7 p.m. tonight at Arrowhead Stadium.

“It means everything,” Warriors senior linebacker Michael Perry said of returning to the playoffs. “It’s a big deal. I mean Sherando’s usually the team that makes the playoffs every year, and not making it last year was a big letdown and it really motivated us to make the playoffs this year.”

The Warriors wrapped up the regular season with an 8-2 record but weren’t mathematically guaranteed a playoff spot until the season’s final week. Sherando won four straight games to close out the regular season after back-to-back losses to Liberty and Martinsburg (West Virginia), including a resounding 35-22 victory in the season finale against Millbrook, the region’s top seed, last week.

“I just think that we continue to progress,” Warriors head coach Bill Hall said. “We still haven’t played our best football, which is a good sign for us. I think we continue to keep taking steps forward and I don’t think we’re content with what we’re doing right now. I think if you can stay hungry and understand your best football’s still ahead of you and you work towards that every day, then good things happen.”

Aaron Banks

Next up for Sherando is a Dominion (7-3) squad in the midst of its own three-game winning streak after victories over Dulles District foes Loudoun County, Loudoun Valley and Park View (Sterling).

The Titans last loss came at the hands of Woodgrove on Oct. 13, a game in which Dominion lost senior quarterback Thomas Jarman to an ACL tear. Sophomore John Hayes has since been taking the snaps at QB, and he’s a scrambler.

“They’re a really athletic bunch,” Warriors senior receiver/defensive back Aaron Banks said. “Saw a few good wide receivers and their quarterback likes to scramble a lot, so we need to stay (in our) fundamentals and do our jobs. He likes to scramble and when the QB scrambles that’s when everything goes berserk.”

Hall said the Titans, who are averaging 30.8 points per game, appear to prefer to be run-first offensively, but he added that they “have no problem” throwing the ball and present a balanced attack.

Dominion’s offense hasn’t changed much since Jarman’s injury, Hall said.

“I think the new quarterback’s kind of like a Johnny Manziel-type guy,” Hall said, referencing the former Heisman Trophy winner from Texas A&M, “like when things break down that’s maybe when he’s at his best, scrambling around and he doesn’t have any hesitation to put the ball down the field. So it’ll be imperative to do a good job fitting onto him properly and making sure we cover on the back end once plays break down.”

Sherando’s defense has been stout all season, holding opponents to 16 points and 220.9 yards per game. The Warriors, who scored two defensive touchdowns in last week’s win over Millbrook, have forced 27 turnovers this season, including 15 interceptions.

“We can’t let them get any big plays. They thrive off of big plays,” said Perry, who has six sacks and 16 tackles for loss. “… We just can’t let them have any momentum. We’re playing at home, we’re gonna have a lot of momentum, so we’ve just gotta shut it down early and bring the energy.”

The Warriors’ own offense has ridden the big play to tremendous results this season and enters the game with 76 plays of 20 yards or more, an average of 7.6 per game. Sherando is averaging 46.7 points and 397.1 yards of offense per contest.

Junior quarterback Hunter Entsminger, who was announced as the Class 4 Northwestern District Offensive Player of the Year on Thursday, has completed 109 of 156 passes (69.9 percent) for 1,915 yards, 24 touchdowns and four interceptions, while junior tailback T.J. Washington has rushed for 1,125 yards and 13 touchdowns, has 431 yards and seven touchdowns receiving and has been electric as a kick/punt returner. Banks, who has five interceptions on defense, has 625 yards receiving and nine touchdowns and is averaging 17.4 yards per catch.

Dominion enters the game allowing 18.8 points per game. Hall said the Titans switch between an even- and odd-man defensive front depending on whether the opposing offense’s personnel includes a tight end, and have shown one and two high safeties in various coverages.

“We can attack all those things, it’s just important to do a good job identifying what it is,” Hall said. “I think we know what the base is and so we can figure the rest of it out, and Hunter can figure the rest of it out from there.”

A win over Dominion would send Sherando into a rematch with Millbrook next week. The Pioneers and second-seeded Liberty both have byes in the first round of the Region 4C playoffs.

“Everything matters a little more,” Banks said of the postseason. “I know when it comes to practice time coach is definitely more hard on us to execute every single play. We know we definitely have to execute when it comes game time.”