Game of the Week: James Wood at Sherando

By ROBERT NIEDZWIECKI | The Winchester Star
STEPHENS CITY — Strange can be fun.
“It’s definitely weird,” said James Wood lineman Luke Roy about playing at Arrowhead Stadium tonight against Sherando. “I think it can be a good thing, too. That way we can hit our best opponent and get us ready for the rest of the season, too.”
At 7 p.m. tonight, the 25-year rivalry between James Wood and Sherando will enter uncharted territory. For the first time ever, the Frederick County and Northwestern District rivals are opening the season against each other.
When Sherando opened in 1993, the annual contest was the last game of the season. When Millbrook opened in 2003, it became a mid-season Week 5 or 6 game.
This year, the Northwestern District’s expansion to 13 schools got the athletic directors at James Wood and Sherando talking about being more flexible with their schedules, and Week 1 made the most sense. (Seven of the 13 schools, including James Wood and Sherando are in Class 4. Tonight’s game counts toward the six-game Class 4 district standings.)
First-year James Wood head coach Ryan Morgan said it doesn’t really matter to him when the game is played. But he added that opening against a known quantity has certainly provided his players with little more incentive to give everything they have.
“I think all offseason, it’s kind of kept [the team] a little bit focused in the weight room,” Morgan said. “We’ll see how it shakes out.”
Almost exclusively, these games have ended with Warriors as the ones going home with the smiles on their faces.
Sherando leads the all-time series 25-2 (including 3-0 in the playoffs). The Warriors (5-5, 3-1 district last year) have won 10 straight games against the Colonels (2-8, 1-3). In six games since 2012 (one in the playoffs), Sherando has won five by 34 points or more, including last year’s 34-0 victory that was also held at Arrowhead.
Many of the key figures who helped Sherando outgain the Colonels 428-140 last year return.
Warriors junior running back T.J. Washington (1,273 yards and 16 touchdowns last season) recorded 16 carries for 177 yards and three TDs against the Colonels last year, and junior quarterback Hunter Entsminger (area-best 1,337 yards and 15 TDs passing) completed 6 of 10 passes for 114 yards.
Sherando wasn’t able to play to completion in its second scrimmage last week against Spotswood, but Warriors coach Bill Hall feels the team has shown a great deal of improvement throughout the preseason.
“I think everyone’s just kind of done a good job of continuously progressing,” Hall said. “The more scrimmage, game situations you get into, the more you get to see how people are going to respond. But I don’t think you ever really know until you play an actual game how things are going to go. We’re excited to see that.”
Sherando senior Aaron Banks — a wide receiver/safety who led the area in receptions last year (22 catches for 354 yards and one TD) and had four interceptions and 47 tackles on defense — said the Warriors aren’t attaching any extra emotion to this game just because it’s a local rival.
“We’re just going to play four fast, physical quarters of football,” he said.
The Warriors particularly like the way they’re playing on defense after struggling at times in 2016. Sherando posted two shutouts and allowed 7.6 points per game in its five wins, but it surrendered 36.4 ppg in its five defeats.
“The defense showed what they were made of, and how we could really be a defensive team,” said Entsminger last week in describing the team’s first scrimmage against Musselman (W.Va.). “It’s great to see how they’ve matured and grown up. Having one year under your belt makes the game a lot slower and easier.”
Hall said the Warriors aren’t as big up front this year, but they might look to send more pressure at opposing offenses because of the have athletic linebackers and safeties.
That pressure should provide a strong test for James Wood’s offensive line.
The Colonels have more size with 6-foot-5 tackles Zach Herbert and Chance Grove being inserted into the starting lineup this year. Morgan said the offensive line is getting better, but the unit is still coming to grips with the new line calls that he’s installed. James Wood played Musselman in it second scrimmage, and the Applemen blitzed more than Hampshire (W.Va.) did in the Colonels’ first scrimmage.
“Sherando’s always solid up front, and they’re going to bring linebackers,” Morgan said. “We’ve got to make sure we’re as solid as can be up front.”
Senior Mike Zebarth (one start last year) beat out two other players in the preseason to earn James Wood’s starting quarterback job. Sophomore running back William Crowder (368 yards on 75 carries and three touchdowns last year) led the Colonels in rushing last year.
Sherando’s offense will have to contain players like 6-0, 329-pound Colonel defensive lineman Dominic Revetta.
“We feel like we have good athletes in space who can make plays, but ultimately it comes down to being able to get the job done up front, whether it be run blocking or pass pro,” Hall said.
After giving up 314 rushing yards (on 10.5 yards per rush) last year against Sherando, James Wood’s performance on the defensive line will also be critical tonight.
“They’ve got a good running back, they’ve got a good offensive line that fires off low,” Morgan said. “Our biggest thing is that we’re holding up at the point of attack, making sure we’re staying in our gaps defensively, and reading who we’re supposed to read on the offensive line and in the backfield.
“If we can play solid up front, and we can get our guys in the right gaps and squeeze where they need to squeeze, I think we can be OK. If we can’t get in the backfield, we need to stalemate them at the line of scrimmage.”
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