STEPHENS CITY – The Jefferson (W.Va.) football team went winless in 2017, but it appears the Cougars mean business in 2018.
Down 22-0 last week against Millbrook, Jefferson was a two-point conversion away from tying the game at 28. The Pioneers went on to win 30-26.
The Cougars – who lost 52-13 to the Pioneers last year – will now take on a Sherando team that routed them 48-12 last year. The Warriors scored all their points before halftime and rolled up 463 yards (263 passing).
“We paid attention [to the Millbrook-Jefferson score],” Sherando senior cornerback Malachi Doleman said. “[From what we see on film, Jefferson is] most definitely better than last year. They have a lot of key people on the team we have to watch out for.”
As well as Jefferson played against Millbrook, it’s going to take a lot for the Cougars to have a similar performance against Sherando.
The Warriors were impressive in all phases in a 65-6 win to open the season against James Wood, outgaining the Colonels 427-157 and scoring 14 points off turnovers.
“I was pleased with our front,” said Sherando coach Bill Hall after reviewing film. “Sometimes you never know during a game how the inside of it is working, and I thought our front did pretty well, offensive line specifically.”
Sherando’s offensive line – which featured senior left tackle Nick Corbit, junior left guard Caleb McLee, senior center Daniel Boespflug, senior right guard Jacob Raymond, and sophomore right tackle Keith Gouveia – as well as tight end William Hall helped running back T.J. Washington gain 202 total yards and two touchdowns and quarterback Hunter Entsminger pass for 130 yards and one TD.
A year ago, Entsminger passed for those 263 yards and two touchdowns against a Jefferson defense that emphasized man defense, but Coach Hall said the Cougars are mixing up their secondary looks this season.
“The biggest thing for us is always identifying what they’re trying to take away, and how do you counter that,” Hall said. “We need to make sure we do that early and make sure we do a good job adjusting off of what they’re doing.”
Sherando lost some major pieces from its receiving corps last year in Aaron Banks (60 catches, 1,060 yards, 12 touchdowns), Frank Ritter (19 catches, 324 yards, six TDs) and Melvin Irby (10 catches, 179 yards, TD).
A couple of players made the most of their increased roles this year against James Wood though. Jabril Hayes had three catches for 55 yards, and Nick Mazza had two catches for 28 yards and a TD.
“Those guys have a lot of potential,” Hall said on Friday. “They just need live reps. They’ve worked hard in practice. They’ve worked hard all year. I’m excited for them, but the best is yet to come for those guys.”
Though the Warriors pride themselves on their versatility, they also like to take what the defense gives them. A lot of things might open up for Sherando if the Warriors can run like Millbrook did against the Cougars last week. The Pioneers gained 349 yards, and 345 of those came on the ground.
Jefferson’s spread offense is led by junior quarterback Corbin Pierson, who completed 11 of 24 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns last week. He was 6 of 9 in the second half for 248 yards.
“Their quarterback’s good,” Hall said. “They’ve got some good skill guys, and they’re big up front. They have the ingredients to where they can be good, it’s just about them putting it together.”
Pierson’s top receiver last week was 6-foot Antione Lewis, who caught six passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns.
“He’s really talented,” Hall said. “He’s got good hands, good speed, shifty. He stood out on film.”
Doleman said Jefferson can beat teams deep if they’re not careful.
“They throw a lot of long passes, because the quarterback scrambles,” Doleman said.
Jefferson’s top running back is Jacob Gamble, who picked up 48 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries last week.
“We’ve got to make sure we execute our play call,” said Hall of the team’s defensive approach. “Whether it’s coverage, checks, blitzes, front. Just making sure we’re all on the same page. We can be on the wrong page, as long as we’re all on the wrong page together. Obviously you don’t want to be like that, but we want to make sure we’re communicating about our formation, any sort of checks that we’ve got.”
Hall is always interested to see the improvement his team makes from Week 1 to Week 2, so he’s pleased he’s facing an improved Jefferson team.
“I’m looking for everybody individually to take another step forward and us as units to take a step forward,” Hall said. “Jefferson’s a good test for us.”