STEPHENS CITY — There are a variety of scenarios in which Sherando’s football team can finish anywhere from second to fourth in the Class 4 Northwestern District standings, depending on the results of tonight’s games. In every scenario, though, the Warriors are in the Region 4C playoffs.
Sherando, a team that’s working back to full strength as it gets some key pieces back from injury, is hunting its fourth straight win to close out the regular season when it travels to Kettle Run tonight.
The Warriors (6-3, 4-2 Northwestern District) are heavy favorites against the Cougars (1-8, 1-5), who picked up their first win of the season last week, but Sherando head coach Bill Hall said he doesn’t anticipate a letdown as his squad tries to get up to speed with the postseason — and a step up in competition — looming.
“I think our guys know, they get to watch the film every Saturday and they know how much we still need to get better,” said Hall, whose team’s final three opponents of the regular season have a combined record of 6-21. “I think they’re hungry. We’ve laid a vision for what the future holds real quick in terms of the caliber of teams that we’re gonna play, so they know we’re in a race so we can compete at that level. We have aspirations but the only way you do that is by taking care of business and playing our best game this week.”
Kettle Run hardly resembles the squad that took Sherando to the brink in last year’s Region 4C semifinal game, which the Warriors won 16-14 on a neutral field at Shenandoah University. Graduation losses have since gutted the Cougars, who won 19 games in 2017 and 2018 but were left with just a handful of returning starters on both sides of the ball at the onset of 2019.
The Cougars, Hall said, are better than their record indicates, however. Kettle Run gave a seven-win Handley team a scare in Winchester two weeks ago, falling 28-21 while shutting out the Judges in the second half, and they’re coming off a 28-14 win over one-win Culpeper County on the road.
Hall noted that Kettle Run is as physically imposing as any team on Sherando’s schedule.
“I don’t know if we’ll have played a front that is as big as them,” Hall said. “They still have guys like that. I think they had a lot of people out early. I saw them early in the year and they look like a different team now than early in the year. I think they probably had some of the same issues we had in terms of just some people being out. They’re a touchdown away versus Handley, so it’s not like they’re not a good ball club. I don’t think their record is indicative of the type of team they are.”
Kettle Run has yet to score 30 points in a game this season and figures to have its hands full with a Sherando defense coming off a stout performance against Fauquier. The Warriors forced four turnovers and held Fauquier to 106 yards of offense in their 48-14 win last week, and on the season they’re holding opponents to 20.2 points and 293 yards per game.
The Cougars have taken a two-quarterback approach on offense, with junior Elijah Chumley and freshman Peyton Mehaffey sharing time at the position. Sophomore receiver Jacob Robinson, who had over 100 yards receiving against Handley and caught an 87-yard touchdown pass against Culpeper, is a threat in the passing game, and running back Darian Lambert also had a 31-yard TD run last week.
Chumley, a lefty, passed for 150 yards and two touchdowns and ran for nearly 60 more yards against Culpeper, and Hall said both of Kettle Run’s QBs factor heavily into their running game. The Chumley name should be familiar to Sherando fans — Gabe Chumley was Kettle Run’s starting quarterback last season and Casen Chumley held that position in 2017.
“Play-calling-wise, they don’t mind putting some responsibility on their quarterback to make good decisions, putting them in (a situation) where they’ve got to make a good throw and it’s up to those guys to execute it,” Hall said.
“(The Cougars have) showed spurts of being good. And again, I think that’s every team, if they show that they can be good then there you go. That’s all you need because all you do is you need to be consistent with it. They’re big. They have a physical run game. I think when they’ve gone away from it is when they’ve struggled maybe a little bit. I think they’ve probably stuck to that a little bit more here recently.”
Sherando’s offense got a boost from the return of junior quarterback Chacai Campbell, who passed for 137 yards and ran for 113 in his first action since Week 2. Campbell adds another running threat to complement senior running back Darius Lane (1,381 yards rushing, 22 touchdowns), and Hall said opposing defenses often turn to more a “predictable box and coverage set” against QBs of Campbell’s skill set.
Kettle Run comes into the matchup allowing 30.4 points per game.
“They play some games with their weak safety, bringing him down or back, so just some coverage stuff that we’ll have to be good on,” Hall said of the Cougars’ defense. “But I mean we’ve got stuff for one-high, two-high (safeties). You’ve just got to know where your eyes are at, so making sure that our quarterbacks are locked in. I think they’re doing a good job. I think we’ve had a really good week of practice.”