Game Of The Week: James Wood At Sherando
Posted: October 7, 2016
By ROBERT NIEDZWIECKI
The Winchester Star
STEPHENS CITY — With three straight losses and a 1-4 record, the season certainly hasn’t gone the way the James Wood football team has liked.
But anything can happen in a rivalry game. And the Colonels had a little extra pep in their step as they began their preparations for tonight’s 7 p.m. game at Sherando (2-3) last week.
"We’ve been using [last year’s Sherando] game to fuel the fire," said James Wood senior linebacker and tight end Noah Sullivan on Sept. 26. "Both teams have different players from last year, but we hope it will be a pretty great game as long as everyone works hard and picks up assignments."
Last year’s game was a thriller between two teams that were ranked among the top eight teams in the 4A West Region when they met. The Warriors entered the contest — which like this year’s game was delayed one week by rainy weather — at 5-0 while the Colonels came in at 4-1.
James Wood put itself in position to earn just its third all-time win against the Warriors, but Sherando linebacker Tyler Tinsman tackled Colonel running back Tyler Bishop behind the line of scrimmage on a fourth-and-2 run from the Warrior 23-yard line with 34 seconds left. (Both players have graduated.)
Sherando’s 14-10 win improved its series lead to 24-2 against James Wood.
The two teams open Northwestern District play under much different circumstances this year, as both are on the outside looking in as far as the 4A West Region playoff picture.
The Warriors’ three losses are the most they’ve had in the regular season since they dropped four in 2012. Tied for 15th in the 4A West playoff ratings, they’re not far out of the 12-team postseason field.
The good news for Sherando — which is playing in its Homecoming contest tonight — is that the Warriors are coming off an impressive 47-12 win against Jefferson (W.Va.) on Sept. 23.
Averaging 39 points a game with at least 21 points in every contest, the Warriors haven’t had a lot of trouble putting up points this year. But the Jefferson game was a big step forward for the defense. Warriors coach Bill Hall said Sherando did a good job of getting three-and-outs, and the offense did a good job of taking advantage of those stops.
Sherando lost 11 of its top 12 tacklers from last year, so the Warriors have had to count on a lot of new faces on defense.
"I think the defensive front has done a good job of progressing," Hall said. "I think the linebackers have done a good job of giving those [linemen] feedback as far as what they need to do to keep them clean. And I think our secondary has done a good job in terms of making sure we’re all on the same page and executing our coverages.
"So I think all of them have gotten better, and I think that’s a reflection of their focus in practice and staying true to the process. As long as you do that, good things happen."
Hall said sophomores Nick Corbit and Austin Covert (17 tackles each) have come on strong at defensive end to form an all-sophomore defensive line with tackle Isaiah Allen when Sherando is in a three-man front.
"[In the preseason] I thought [Corbit and Covert] had the potential [to play a big role]," Hall said. "Certain things dictated them playing more sooner than later.
"But they’ve both done a good job in terms of taking the coaching, and I think they put themselves in position to be successful based off of having a really strong offseason. They’re doing a good job with their fundamentals and technique."
With senior wide receiver/running back Nathan Wagner’s emergence, the Warriors are becoming increasingly dangerous on offense.
Wagner has 472 total receiving and rushing yards and seven TDs, with all of that coming in Sherando’s last three games. For the season, sophomore running back T.J. Washington has 78 carries for 388 yards and seven TDs, and sophomore quarterback Hunter Entsminger has completed 50 of 75 passes for 758 yards, seven TDs and two interceptions.
"You like to see guys rewarded for sticking through the process," said Hall, noting how committed Wagner was to Sherando’s weight training program while he was occupied with soccer in the spring. "I’m really happy for him, because he’s taken advantage of his opportunities. He’s a good change-of-pace guy for us."
James Wood coach Mark McHale — whose team is coming off a 39-14 loss to Hedgesville (W.Va.) — said the Colonels need to start doing a better job of limiting the types of big plays that the Warriors have frequently achieved this year.
Against Hedgesville, the Colonels gave up a 55-yard Hail Mary touchdown, onsides kick and field goal in the last eight seconds of the first half to fall behind 25-7, and they also gave up TD runs of 39, 66 and 35 yards.
"We definitely need to work on tackling in the open field," said Sullivan, who leads James Wood with 33 tackles, last week. "That’s been a struggle for us."
Offensively, Sullivan said James Wood was preparing to work on having the running backs hit the holes faster and have the linemen hold their pass blocks longer for quarterback Dade Carroll.
"If we’re able to correct all those things, we can be a great football team," Sullivan said. "We just have to keep working to get to that point."
James Wood did start the Hedgesville game strong by forcing two three-and-outs and getting an 81-yard touchdown from leading rusher and freshman William Crowder (33 carries, 258 yards, three TDs).
The Colonels will hope to sustain success this week by cutting down the mistakes that have hampered them, and McHale hopes facing a rival like Sherando will help in that regard.
"We’re not a team that can afford to get five yards on first down and then get a holding penalty," McHale said. "I think they’ll focus more for this [game] because of the rivalry. Sherando was a big favorite last year, but we played hard and were right there."
Hall said the Warriors will have to assert themselves up front on both offense and defense to be successful.
"That sets up opportunities for us," Hall said. "It’s always important to control the line of scrimmage. If we can put limit them in terms of run downs and put them in long-yardage situations, and we can stay on schedule on offense, that will be key."
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