Comeback falls short for Sherando against Liberty

BEALETON — Sherando couldn’t quite complete the comeback against Liberty on Friday night.

The Warriors scored 24 points in a three-minute span to cut into a 28-point second-half deficit, but time ran out on Sherando as the Eagles held on for a 35-24 win to advance to the next round of the Region 4A North playoffs.

“We took a couple shots, made some big plays. It got real exciting for a couple minutes,” said Warriors junior quarterback Patrick Minteer, who threw a pair of touchdown passes and ran for another score during Sherando’s scoring outburst midway through the second half. “I thought maybe we could pull this thing off. But again, we made too many mistakes. … But I was real proud of the way we played in the second half in general.”

No. 3 Liberty (11-1) took a 14-0 lead into halftime and built that advantage to 28 points in the third quarter after a 15-yard touchdown run by senior T.J. Hogan and a 23-yard scoring scamper by quarterback Aaron Walters.

But the Warriors, who mustered just 51 total yards in the first half, finally answered late in the third quarter.

Utilizing an up-tempo offense, Sherando (9-3) marched 56 yards on seven plays in less than two minutes, and Minteer put the Warriors on the board with a 3-yard touchdown run with four seconds left in the third quarter.

“We were having a hard time getting a rhythm going on offense, so we were just trying to do anything to get the chains moving and get some rhythm going,” Warriors head coach Bill Hall said. “I thought that gave us that opportunity, and our guys executed at a good level. We ran out of time once we hit into that.”

Liberty responded quickly with a 60-yard scoring strike from Walters to Anthony Spagnoletti (six catches, 141 yards) just three plays later to push the lead to 35-7 with 10:29 to play.

The touchdown pass was set up by Liberty’s use of a bunch backfield in the second half, which resulted in some long runs for running backs Hogan and Martin Parker, as well as Walters. The Eagles finished with 288 yards rushing in the game, while Walters threw for 206 yards and a touchdown.

“I’ve never seen that formation before,” Sherando defensive end Brogan McPartland said of Liberty’s offense in the second half. “The first time they blocked that way, I got blocked in a way I’ve never gotten blocked. My tight end went on a down block and I got cracked, which has never happened. That was a great play call by them.”

Sherando immediately came back with a 25-yard touchdown pass from Minteer to Dylan Rivers (10 catches, 75 yards), and a safety on the ensuing kickoff cut Liberty’s lead to 35-16 with 9:37 left to play.

The Warriors rode that momentum to yet another score, as Minteer (21 of 24 for 215 yards) found a wide-open Adam Whitacre for a 53-yard touchdown pass just three plays later, capping a 71-yard scoring drive and cutting the Eagles’ lead to 35-24 following a successful two-point conversion.

“I think that’s one thing that we’ve shown to be consistent in our football team is the fact that we have great heart and we fight for the whole four quarters,” Hall said.

“I didn’t expect anything less than that. I’m proud of these guys. We just didn’t execute the way we needed to.”

Sherando came up with a big fourth-down stop on Liberty’s next possession, as Warriors linebacker John Doleman hit Hogan in the backfield for a loss to give Sherando the ball at the Eagles’ 48 with 6:19 left.

The Warriors drove down to the Liberty 11, but a false start on third down pushed Sherando back. A negative play on a screen pass to Ojo then set up a 36-yard field goal try for the Warriors, but Rhett Morris’ high kick banged off the cross bar and kept the Warriors in an 11-point deficit.

Liberty took over with 2:38 left was able to run out most of the clock, and Eagles senior Morgan Estep’s third sack of the night capped Liberty’s win.

The Eagles dominated the first half, getting touchdown runs by Parker — a 72-yarder — and Hakeem Johnson while stifling Sherando’s rushing attack.

The Warriors — who also fumbled six times but recovered each time — finished the night with just 50 yards on 29 carries, with senior LeeQuan Johnson gaining 36 yards on 16 carries.

“We made some adjustments to what they do, formation-wise,” Liberty head coach Sean Finnerty said. “We thought we knew where they were going to run the ball and we were right for the most part. We were in the right spots and we got all 11 hats to the ball.”

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