4A North Football Playoffs: ‘Big Joe’ comes up big for Warrior defense
STEPHENS CITY — Some players can go a whole career without ever making a game-changing play
Joe Daley made two of them in the span of four minutes of game clock Friday night.
With his team locked in a 20-20 slugfest with run-oriented Courtland midway through the fourth quarter, the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Sherando senior linebacker made the kind of play that had teammates and fans congratulating him long after the game was over.
Facing a third-and-2 from the Warriors’ 22-yard line, Courtland went to a play that had yielded big yards earlier in the game.
Quarterback Jabari Allen took the snap and quickly handed off to running back Victor Greene for what looked like a sweep around the right side, but was in fact a designed reverse to fellow running back George Cheetham heading the other direction.
The only problem for the Cougars was they didn’t count on Daley being in the backfield.
Blitzing at the snap of the ball, Daley met Greene just as he was trying to hand off to Cheetham. The collision knocked the ball loose and when the ensuing scrum was pulled apart, it was none other than Daley at the bottom with the fumble recovery.
“Coach [Rohrbaugh] sent me on a blitz and I saw the dude sweeping around and just thought, ‘There’s the guy with the ball, I might as well tackle him,’” Daley said. “And once I tackled him and saw the fumble, I just went for it as hard as I could.”
Five plays later fellow linebacker George Aston, who moonlights as a battering ram out of the backfield, plowed in from 1 yard out for what would prove to be the game-winning score in the Warriors’ 27-20 win over Courtland in the 4A North Region semifinals at Arrowhead Stadium.
“That’s the thing about our team, we have playmakers all over the field and tonight Joe made some big plays for us,” said senior Reid Entsminger. “[Courtland] ran the ball hard and we had to adjust to it, but Joe made some big-time plays when we needed it.
“He’s a great football player, I tell him that all the time, and [forcing and recovering the fumble] was a big-time play. He probably won the game there basically.”
If it wasn’t over then, Daley ensured that it was on Courtland’s final drive.
Trailing by a touchdown with three minutes remaining on the clock, the Cougars abandoned their run game and went to the air, completing a pair of big passes to get the ball to midfield.
But three straight incompletions put them in fourth-and-10 and Rohrbaugh again dialed up a Daley blitz.
There was no fumble this time, but the final result was just as damaging for Courtland as Daley managed to trip up Allen for a sack, an eight-yard loss and a turnover on downs.
The Cougars would never touch the ball again.
“We use [Daley] a lot on blitzes, he has a knack for making plays in the backfield,” said Sherando coach Bill Hall. “I don’t know what all Coach Rohrbaugh was calling there, but obviously there at the end he sent a little more pressure just because we needed to make a play.”
There were plenty of plays made by Daley and the Sherando defense throughout the night.
Courtland managed to run for 183 yards and was six for 11 on third downs, but the Warriors came up with big stops when they needed them the most.
On the opening drive of the game the Cougars had first-and-10 at the Sherando 20 but could get no closer.
Entsminger sniffed out a sweep to the left for a loss of seven yards and a desperation pass on fourth-and-15 fell incomplete in the end zone.
The Warriors forced another turnover on downs late in the third quarter when they tracked down a scrambling Allen and knocked him out of bounds for a seven-yard gain on fourth-and-14.
All in all Sherando only allowed two scoring drives — Courtland’s second touchdown came after it recovered an Entsminger fumble at 1-yard line — and limited the Cougars (averaging 38 points per game coming in) to their second lowest point total of the season.
“My hat’s off to them, they’re a good football team,” said Courtland coach J.C. Hall. “They’re one of the best [defensive teams] we’ve faced. We’ve done a good job scoring points this year, we played three AAA teams and scored points on them, but [Sherando] played us tough.”
And nobody was tougher than Daley in the fourth quarter.
Between pats on the back and shouts of “Big Joe” from teammates as they exited the field, Daley couldn’t help but smile when asked what it meant to him to come up big when his team needed it most.
“I’m just really, really happy,” said Daley, who finished with 12 total tackles and three tackles-for-loss in the win. “The first half we didn’t feel like we played as physical as we should have, but in the second half we came out and got it done. We just had to focus on our jobs, do what we have to do and make plays. And we’re going to watch film, get better and get it done next week.”
— Contact Kevin Trudgeon at firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow on Twitter @WinStarSports1