Sherando, Wood looking for early momentum

A year ago, James Wood's victory over Sherando in the season opener propelled the Colonels to an unforgettable football campaign in which they made the playoffs for the first since 2014 and won seven games for the first time since 2009.
A win Friday night in this year's season opener at the Colonels' Kelican Stadium (7 p.m. kickoff) won't guarantee anything for either of the Frederick County and Class 4 Northwestern District rivals.
But it would certainly help a James Wood squad that wants to remain a playoff qualifier after losing many of its top players, as well as a Sherando team that's looking to return to being a Class 4 Northwestern District contender after experiencing just its second non-winning season since 2004 and its first since 2016. 
Last fall, James Wood won 34-20 behind a sterling performance from one of its graduated stars, Jaden Ashby. The wide receiver who will enroll at NCAA Division I Southern Utah in the fall scored four of James Wood’s five touchdowns and had 198 total rushing and receiving yards. 
The Colonels' offense will look a lot different this year as a result of having to replace Ashby, fellow receiver Ryan King, running back Wes Brondos and three starting offensive lineman. That group includes Hunter Franks, who is now at Shenandoah University.
James Wood does return starting quarterback Jared Neal. The senior completed 117 of 217 passes for 1,653 yards, 17 touchdowns and 13 interceptions last season. He'll be joined in the backfield by James Wood's top two returning tacklers from last year. Linebackers Zach Smith (117 tackles) and Blake Corbin (79 tackles) split carries with each other during the preseason.  
"Anytime you lose a kid like Jaden Ashby, it's noticeable," Sherando coach Jake Smith said. "He's one of the better athletes to come through this area I think in a long time. But from the things that I've seen, I think they have some playmakers on the perimeter. I think the quarterback makes good decisions and has the ability to stretch the ball down the field, and they have some good size up front. I think they'll be a good team again this fall."
Sherando wants to avoid the type of big plays it gave up last year — three of Ashby's touchdowns went for 78, 37, and 20 yards.
"We don't want mental errors, mis-aligning, or blowing coverage," Smith said. "We want to play sound and rally to the football."  
Smith said taking care of the football and establishing the running game will also be key for the Warriors. Outside of quarterback Micah Carlson's 49-yard TD run that tied the game at 20 with nine minutes remaining, Sherando had a hard time sustaining its running attack last year against James Wood, managing 94 yards on its other 25 carries.
James Wood coach Ryan Morgan feels this year's Sherando team is a stronger one than last year's 5-6 squad.
The Warriors are led on offense by the now-sophomore Carlson (31 of 66 for 389 yards, three TDs and five interceptions while filling in for Dylan Rodeffer; also rushed for 129 yards and three TDs), wide receiver AJ Santiago (43 catches, 654 yards, seven TDs) and receiver/running back Gayyn Blye (1,069 all-purpose yards, including 507 receiving, and five TDs). Sherando also has a sophomore running back in Jason Foster, who had a 70-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage in the Warriors' second scrimmage against Meridian. 
"They've got good athletes that they're spreading the ball around, too," Morgan said. "[Santiago] has been a dangerous receiver for them the past two years, and he's going to be good again this year. They look older, more mature, and a little bit more athletic than they were last year."
Morgan said dealing with Sherando's quickness will be a big test for the Colonels. 
"We haven't scrimmaged anybody that can replicate that speed," said Morgan, whose team faced Hampshire (W.Va.) two weeks ago and Boonsboro (Md.) last week. "We don't even necessarily have the guys on our team who can replicate that speed in practice.
"We've got to make sure we're keeping things in front of us, and our defensive backs are taking their read steps and staying over top." 
Morgan feels Sherando's big and strong defensive front will also present a challenge. Senior defensive end Trey Kremer (59 tackles, 6.5 sacks) leads that group.
"We've got to make sure we're staying on our blocks, extending our blocks, protecting the quarterback, and getting the ball to the right place," Morgan said. 
Morgan said James Wood's second scrimmage started off rough last week because of some protection issues on offense. But once those were addressed he liked the way Neal directed the attack, which led to a strong second half. Overall, Morgan said the Colonels didn't play with as much intensity as they needed to against Boonsboro, but he feels that might have been a result of his team having an eye on the regular-season opener.
Anyone who's stopped by a James Wood preseason practice the last two seasons has seen them end those sessions with a huddle and say in unison "Beat Sherando" before making their way back to the locker room. Morgan has no doubt the intensity will be there for the Colonels on Friday.
"If you can't get up for the first game of the season against your cross-county rival, I'm not sure why you're playing football," Morgan said. "I know our players are looking forward to it. Some of those kids have not played a whole lot of varsity ball yet, so it's their chance to kind of put their stamp on the rivalry."
With a 28-4 advantage, Sherando has pretty much owned its rivalry with the Colonels, but James Wood has the last two wins. The Colonels won at Arrowhead Stadium both in the spring (Sherando's season finale) and the fall in 2021.
Smith is now in his second year, and he feels the Warriors are much better prepared going into the 2022 season after the team had an entire offseason to work together and spend time together. The Warriors would love nothing more to spoil Wood's home opener this year and establish some early confidence. Sherando had to fight its way back from an 0-3 start last year.
"I think [a win] would go a long way," Smith said. "These guys have put in a lot of work from last season to this season. I think they've done a great job, and that's a credit to them and the energy that they bring each and every session that we have together.
"Ultimately, being able to start the season off on the right foot puts you in a good place to move in the right direction." 
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