STEPHENS CITY — Sherando’s tough football schedule this season isn’t getting any easier.
The Warriors host undefeated Liberty tonight in a Class 4 Northwestern District showdown, which is also homecoming for Sherando. Liberty and Sherando have a storied tradition and played in the Region 4C championship against each other two years ago.
“It’s an old tradition, an old rivalry,” Sherando coach Bill Hall said after Tuesday’s practice. “We’ve played a lot of really good football games with those guys. (Liberty head coach) Travis Buzzo is (longtime former Liberty head coach) Tommy Buzzo’s boy. He’s doing a good job with those guys and they play with a lot of heart and intensity.”
Sherando senior linebacker/running back Payne Bauer said he has good memories from the regional championship game two years ago and he’s excited to play them this season.
“It’s just a big tradition, they’re going to give us their best,” Bauer said. “They’re rolling in here undefeated, so we’re going to get their best game. We consider them kind of our rival because of the rich tradition we have playing with them. So it’s pretty exciting, and we’re just going to do our job and just play Sherando football (tonight).”
Liberty is 5-0 and tied for first place in the Class 4 Northwestern District. Offensively, the Eagles are averaging 38 points per contest.
Hall said that they have a balanced offense, led by junior quarterback Dylan Bailey. Hall said that junior wide receiver Justin Lawson and senior wide receiver Tre’von White are big threats on offense.
“(Bailey) is not afraid to put the ball up in space,” Hall said. “They do a good job running and passing.”
Sherando’s defense has been a big strength almost all season long. The Warriors struggled on defense in a 42-31 loss to Millbrook on Sept. 27, but bounced back against Harrisonburg in a 52-7 win last week.
The Warriors (3-2, 1-1 Class 4 Northwestern) gave up a big run on Harrisonburg’s first drive of the game, but only yielded 11 rushing yards for the rest of the game with the exception of the final play of the contest.
“I think that speaks to the way were executing on defense, which is good — not giving up big plays,” Hall said. “Teams are going to get yards on you, you just can’t give up the explosive plays. If we can limit explosive plays, win turnover battles, then usually good things happen.”
Bauer said he’s been pleased with the way the defense has performed most of the season.
“I think every week, or for the most part, we’ve just been increasing how we play,” Bauer said. “I think we’re doing a lot better at figuring out our job description. So I think every guy is getting better every week, which is really good for us because we’re really young.”
Sherando has been led defensively this season by Bauer with 37 tackles, nine sacks and one interception and senior linebacker McKinley Dean with 37 tackles.
Sherando’s offense has been solid all season. The Warriors are averaging 34.6 points and 388.2 yards per contest. Sherando senior running back Darius Lane has rushed for more than 200 yards in back-to-back games. Lane has an area-best 784 yards rushing on 112 carries and eight touchdowns.
Sherando sophomore quarterback Dylan Rodeffer has thrown for 492 yards on 43-of-81 passing with five touchdowns. Rodeffer has been filling in for junior quarterback Chacai Campbell, who has been out due to injury for three games in a row. Campbell was still on crutches at Tuesday’s practice.
“Dylan’s doing a good job progressing,” Hall said. “He was at 60 percent completions (against Harrisonburg). He did a good job possessing the ball, not turning the ball over which was our issue the week before.”
Liberty (5-0, 2-0 Class 4 Northwestern) is giving up 20.6 points per contest. Hall said that the Eagles’ defense will present a challenge for Sherando’s offense.
“They’re aggressive on the front,” Hall said. “They’re linebackers are downhill, they put a lot of pressure on you there. They’re athletic on the backend, so they can cover a lot of space. Holes squeeze down quick. So they’re a good fundamental defense.”
The game could also have big implications for the postseason. The top four teams in the district standings advance to the playoffs in Region 4C this season. Liberty is tied for first, while Sherando is tied for fourth.
Bauer said that Hall stresses to the team not to get caught up in all the homecoming festivities and let it be a distraction. Bauer said he thinks the team is doing a good job of that.
Hall said the key for his team is to treat it just like every other game.
“We just try to teach our guys that every game is the most important game, every play is the most important play,” he said. “So I think if we just approach it from the right mindset we’ll be all right. You don’t want to make the game bigger than what it is. Not that it’s not a big game and it carries significant weight, but if you’re thinking about all of those things and how big the game is you can’t execute within the game. So we’re just trying to be inside the moment — greatness happens inside the moment.”