STEPHENS CITY – Sherando’s football team is in an unusual position today – the Warriors are the underdogs.

Sherando hosts rival Martinsburg (W.Va.) tonight in a clash of two programs with strong traditions. Martinsburg has won 44 straight games and three straight state titles in a row in West Virginia.

“They’re always a great team,” Sherando head coach Bill Hall said after practice Monday. “I have a lot of respect for (Martinsburg head) coach (David) Walker, their program, the tradition they have. It’s one of my favorite games of the year just because as a competitor you like to challenge yourself against the very best. You don’t get better by scoring 50 points on somebody. You get better by challenging yourself, having to respond to adversity. If you want to have long-term success in the playoffs you have to be challenged before you get there. So this is an opportunity to be challenged. They challenge us and they play good football. They play fundamental, execution football. (Just by playing them) it’s a win for us in every way, shape or form every year.”

Sherando senior running back/linebacker Payne Bauer said that he enjoys being in the underdog role for a change.

“It’s always a good feeling to be the underdog,” Bauer said. “So hopefully we can prevail. Hopefully, we can go prove them wrong. Everyone loves an underdog story.”

The Warriors may be facing some additional adversity tonight. At Tuesday’s practice, Sherando junior quarterback Chacai Campbell was among the players who weren’t dressed for practice. Campbell’s status for tonight’s game is unknown.

Campbell has thrown for 281 yards on 13-for-28 passing with five touchdowns and two interceptions. Campbell also has 170 rushing yards and two scores.

Sherando’s back-up quarterback is sophomore Dylan Rodeffer, who Hall has expressed in confidence since the preseason. Hall said in August that Rodeffer could be used in certain situations with Sherando’s first team and might not be limited to being a traditional backup.

Rodeffer has seen action late in the Warriors’ first two games with Sherando comfortably ahead. He threw a 25-yard touchdown pass, his only pass attempt of the game, last week in a win over Jefferson (W.Va.).

“He’s been preparing for his opportunity just the way everybody else does,” Hall said after Tuesday’s practice. “We started throwing back in March. He’s had a lot of time with me, our receivers. He’s prepared for when his number is called just the way the rest of the guys are.”

The Warriors have had several players out for the first two games of the season, including junior wide receiver/linebacker Kelli Lawson.

Whether at full strength or not, the Warriors face a big challenge against Martinsburg’s offense. The Bulldogs have outscored opponents this season, 125-18. They have won seven state titles since 2010 and have also been state-runners up four times since 2000.

The Bulldogs’ offense is led by a balanced attack. Senior quarterback Elijah Banks, a 6-foot-2, 210-pounder, will look to lead the Bulldogs on offense.

“He has a really good arm,” Hall said. “He’s a tall quarterback. He’s more of a thrower than a runner — kind of a flip from last year’s quarterback. But they’re going to attack based off of what you’re doing. They can run or pass it. The quarterback does a good job.”

Banks has plenty of receivers to throw the ball to led by senior Jarod Bowie. Hall said that junior Anthony Smith and senior Malakai Brown are also strong at the receiver position. Junior Naieem Kearney leads the way at running back for the Bulldogs.

Hall said that senior Ty Lucas (6-foot-3, 310 pounds) and Matthew Bednarski (6-foot-2, 260 pounds) are the key to Martinsburg’s offensive line. Lucas has a college football scholarship offer from Kent State University.

While Martinsburg (2-0) has a strong offense, Sherando’s defense is also having a stellar season. The Warriors are allowing just 9.5 points per game.

Sherando’s defense is led by Bauer, who leads the team with 16 tackles and seven sacks.

“They got a lot of athletes but so do we on defense,” Bauer said. “So it’s going to be pretty equally matched to me.”

Hall said the Warriors’ defense and special teams played well in their 41-7 win over Jefferson (W.Va.) on Sept. 6.

“Defensively, I think we’re kind of doing a good job of setting the tone for the ballgame,” Hall said. “We created two turnovers. I think special teams has been good. Our coverage team got better last week.”

Offensively, the Warriors are averaging 45 points and 446.5 yards per contest. Sherando senior running back Darius Lane has rushed for 281 yards on 42 carries and three touchdowns. Bauer has 82 yards on four carries and one touchdown. Senior wide receiver Jabril Hayes has five catches for 111 yards and three touchdowns. Lane has four catches for 112 yards and two scores.

The Warriors (2-0, 1-0 Class 4 Northwestern) committed 14 penalties in their victory over Jefferson and Hall said that the team is committed to correcting those mistakes.

Hall said that Martinsburg uses two different defensive formations and the Bulldogs are effective with each one.

“I think the key to great teams is they just execute so well within the base (formation),” Hall said. “It’s not so much what you run, it’s how you run it. And they run both of those very well. We’ll be prepared for both (defenses).”

Despite the tradition that Martinsburg has, Sherando has played them tough over the years. Sherando defeated Martinsburg, 21-14, on Sept. 4, 2015. The Bulldogs lost again three weeks later to Morgantown (W.Va.) and haven’t lost a regular season game since.

Martinsburg has won the last three meetings with Sherando, 35-28, 31-28 and 50-45. Hall, a 1992 Strasburg graduate, knows a little about strong football tradition. When Hall played at Strasburg, the Rams had a strong football tradition with several trips to the state playoffs. Hall said that he’s proud of the way Sherando has competed against Martinsburg and its strong tradition over the years.

“Growing up in Strasburg (longtime former Strasburg head football) coach (Glenn) Proctor used to talk about how a lot of our games were won before we even stepped on the field,” Hall said. “I think that happens sometimes with us. I think sometimes the mystique of playing Sherando and even much more the mystique of playing Martinsburg sometimes gets people out of their game right away. So I think we embrace the opportunity to compete.”

Having the game at home could also help the Warriors. Bauer said that he’s excited about the game and to play in the charged atmosphere.

“I think it’s going to be absolutely crazy,” Bauer said. “It’s so nice to be at home. I think there’s going to be a lot of people here for both teams. So it’s probably going to feel like a college game. So it’s going to be pretty nice to play out here and I’m excited for (tonight).”

Hall said the atmosphere should be special and it’s games like this that he looks forward to coaching in every year.

“There’s no better atmosphere than (Sherando’s) Arrowhead Stadium on a Friday night against Martinsburg,” he said. “This is the reason you grow up being a Warrior and this is what you look forward to. There’s nothing that gets my juices flowing like a game like this or a playoff game because you know you’re going to be challenged. You know there’s going to be adversity there. It tests you and how you respond and keep getting up. And these are the types of games that you learn a lot about yourself and your team. And I’ve always been proud of our guys. They always seem to respond.”

Winchester Star sports reporter Rob Niedzwiecki contributed to this story.

– Contact Tommy Keeler Jr. at tkeeler@nvdaily.com