WINCHESTER — One of Sherando football coach Bill Hall’s familiar refrains is “we’re just trying to get better every week.”
Without even playing a game last week, the Warriors did get better in the Virginia High School League ratings this week. After ranking fourth in the ratings released Sept. 29, Sherando is now the No. 1 team in the 4A West Region with a 28.0 rating.
While moving up to No. 1 in the region is different, one thing that’s stayed the same since 2011 is Sherando’s status as the No. 1 team in Winchester-Frederick County.
For four consecutive years, the Warriors (5-0 this year) have won the Barr-Lindon Crimson Apple, awarded by The Winchester Star to the team that fares the best in games between the four city-county schools.
After a one-week wait because of last week’s rain, Sherando’s “drive for five” begins at 7 p.m. today against No. 8 James Wood (4-1, 23.6 rating) at Jerry L. Kelican Stadium in the Northwestern District opener for both teams.
The Colonels plan on giving everything they have to derail those dreams. The .800 winning percentage that James Wood brings into tonight’s game is the best any of Sherando’s local opponents have had during the Warriors’ run of 13 straight victories against them. The Colonels only need one more win to match last year’s total of five, when they went to the playoffs and lost to Sherando in the first round.
“We’re a new team this year,” said James Wood senior wide receiver and cornerback Dillon Manuel. “I think we’re better this year than we were last year, and we want to give them a fight.”
While the Colonels are focusing on the current team, the actions of last year’s team were an important step in the mental hurdle that comes with playing Sherando. The Warriors lead the all-time series with James Wood 23-2, and each of Sherando’s last four wins have come by at least 35 points.
James Wood had the rare opportunity of playing Sherando twice last year.
While the regular season score (44-7) was actually closer than the playoff score (48-0), James Wood played better in the playoff game. The Warriors scored 35 points in the first 16 minutes of their regular season win, but Sherando managed just seven points in the first 16 minutes of the playoff game before a 12-play, 64-yard drive spurred it to two touchdowns in the last four minutes of the half.
The Warriors were in complete control in the second half, but at least James Wood showed progress at the game’s outset.
“The guys played them better,” James Wood coach Mark McHale said. “We still gave up some big plays, but it was a close game until right before the half.”
For the Colonels to have a shot against Sherando this year, they’re likely going to have to get a strong game from area rushing leader and scoring leader Tyler Bishop (125 carries, 1,104 yards, 8.8 average, 13 TDs, 84 points).
A year ago, Bishop came into the Sherando playoff game riding the momentum of a 221-yard, three-touchdown performance against Handley, but the Warriors held him to 34 yards on 15 carries. In the regular season, Bishop managed only seven yards on six carries against Sherando.
No one’s really figured out a way to slow down Bishop this year. Bishop’s 151-yard effort against Hedgesville two weeks ago (a 28-0 James Wood win) stands as his lowest single-game effort this year.
“[Sherando’s] a really aggressive team, and we know that they’re good up front,” Bishop said. “I feel like our O-line’s capable of taking it to their [defensive line], but we have to prove it.”
While Manuel’s correct in stating that James Wood is a better team this year, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that Sherando is better than last year too.
The Warriors are outscoring opponents by 22.4 points per game (16.8 last year), outgaining them by 132.4 yards per game (65 last year), and are undefeated through five games for the first time since 2010.
The Warriors’ pass defense made headlines in their last game — they had five interceptions two weeks ago in a 35-7 win against Jefferson (W.Va.) — but they resemble a brick wall when opponents choose to run it. Sherando is giving up only 2.6 yards per carry and 64.8 yards per game on the ground.
“We’re playing together and all doing what we’re supposed to do,” said Sherando senior linebacker Tyler Tinsman (team-high 41 tackles). “[The linebackers] are doing a good job filling, and the line is creating a lot of havoc. They’re everywhere on the field.
“[James Wood] has better lineman this year, and Bishop runs really hard. We’ve just got to try and eliminate him, and if we get to the pass I think we’ll be OK.”
The Colonels (145 yards in two games) weren’t much better passing the ball than they were running against Sherando last year, and they’ll look to new quarterback Dade Carroll (31 of 49 for 461 yards, six touchdowns and five interceptions) and the wide receiver Manuel (20 catches for 355 yards and four TDs) to keep the Warriors off balance.
Few offenses are as good at keeping an opponent on their toes as Sherando’s. Led by quarterback Pat Minteer (33 of 60 for 725 yards, seven TDs), running back D.J. Myers (112 carries for 695 yards and seven TDs) and versatile junior Dylan Rivers (12 catches for 353 yards and four TDs; nine TDs total), the Warriors have done a good job all year of adjusting their offense to attack defenses where they’re most vulnerable.
Sherando did most of its damage on the ground last year against the Colonels (492 rushing yards in two games), but five of Minteer’s 11 completions went for touchdowns.
McHale said a big problem for the Colonels lately has been penalties, and he stressed that James Wood will have to do a better job of that tonight.
“Tyler’s had three touchdowns called back this year because of penalties, and [defensive back Noah] Sullivan had a long interception return called back because of a penalty,” McHale said. “That takes away your scoring opportunities, so we’ve got to play perfect as far as penalties. We can’t beat ourselves. When you go against a team as good as Sherando is, you can’t play behind the chains. We can’t have holding calls or blocks in the back.”
Penalties are sometimes the result of physical acts of desperation, but sometimes they’re simply the result of mental errors.
Sherando has certainly imposed itself on James Wood physically in recent years, but the Warriors realize a strong mental approach will also be important as they look to extend their winning streak to nine games over the Colonels.
“We’re trying to develop a team that’s built for long-term success,” Hall said. “It doesn’t matter who you’re playing against, you have to execute at a certain standard that we expect for ourselves. I expect our team to, as we continue through this process, be seasoned in terms of our mental approach to the game of football.”
While being interviewed 10 days ago, Minteer sounded as if he planned on making sure that the Warriors’ minds stayed sharp for the Colonels.“I think our entire team needs to know that James Wood wants to beat us more than anything in the world,” Minteer said. “If we don’t do our job, that’s going to happen. It’s just like that with every other football game. We’ve got to go out there and play four quarters, snap to whistle, and get after it like Sherando football does.”