4A North Football Playoffs: Sherando fights off Courtland 27-20 to move on to title contest
STEPHENS CITY — A total team effort by Sherando on Black Friday made sure the Warriors got the playoff deal they were looking for with the opportunity to continue playing football in December.
Senior tailback George Aston scored three touchdowns, including the go-ahead score with 3:15 left to play, to lead the Warriors to a 27-20 victory over Courtland in the 4A North Region semifinal at Arrowhead Stadium Friday night.
Sherando (12-1), who extended its winning streak to 11, will now host No. 2 Salem (11-2) — a 42-25 winner over Woodgrove in Friday’s other semifinal — in the 4A North championship back at Arrowhead at 1 p.m. next Saturday.
And December football has been one of the team’s goals all along.
“It’s awesome and it means everything in the world to us and our team,” said Aston, who rushed for 77 yards on 13 carries and made 20 total tackles. “We just worked so hard all year. We just came together and pulled through.”
The Warriors, who snapped a 10-game winning streak by Courtland (10-3), had several different players step up and make big plays on seemingly every scoring drive as well as some big defensive stops along the way.
The last defensive stop came with Courtland driving inside the Warriors 25-yard line. On third-and-2 at the 22, Sherando linebacker Joe Daley nailed running back Victor Greene, who was trying to hand off to George Cheetham. Daley made contact with Greene just about the time of the exchange, and pounced on the loose ball after forcing the fumble to give Sherando the ball on its own 31 with 5:18 left.
On first down, senior fullback Daniel Eppard broke free off the right tackle for 51 yards to give Sherando a first down at the Courtland 18.
From there, the Warriors kept it on the ground and needed just four plays for the go-ahead touchdown. Aston gained five yards, and then six more for first-and-goal at the 7. Sherando senior quarterback Reid Entsminger broke free for six more yards, and Aston scored the go-ahead touchdown from a yard out to cap a five-play, 69-yard drive that took just 2:03. Rhett Morris added the extra point to put Sherando ahead 27-20 with 3:15 left to play.
Eppard had a 20-yard run negated by a penalty early in the second quarter, and the Warriors senior credited Sherando’s offensive line for springing his 51-yard gain when the same play was called late in the fourth quarter.
“When I heard the call I just knew I had to dig deep and if we didn’t score on that drive it wasn’t going to end well for our team,” said Eppard, who rushed for 93 yards on four carries and also had an 18-yard reception. “I just remember seeing [our] line just sweep their linebackers down and I just saw a hole. I just ran as hard and as fast as I could to get us in the best field position as possible.”
Hall said Eppard’s all-around play in the postseason has been huge.
“Whatever we’ve asked of him he’s done a great job,” Hall said. “It’s one of those kids who has put in a lot of time to experience the success that he’s had. But he’ll give those linemen up front some credit for creating those holes on the trap.”
Courtland took over at its own 17 but the Cougars’ drive stalled at their own 49. After three straight incompletions, the Cougars had one final chance on fourth-and-10 at the 49, but Daley sacked Courtland quarterback Jabari Allen to force a turnover on downs with 1:50 left.
From there, the Warriors drove down to the Courtland 13 when time expired.
“It was a dogfight and when we were on offense I thought we were kind of wearing them down,” Hall said. “I don’t know if we got worn down or not but I definitely thought it was a heavyweight fight out there.”
Courtland rushed for 183 yards, getting 66 yards from wing back George Cheetham and 53 from running back Anton Jenkins. The Cougars finished with 258 yards on 66 plays, while Sherando totaled 315 — 243 of which came on the ground — on 46 plays.
Sherando trailed early in the second quarter after Entsminger fumbled on second-and-21 at the Warrior 25. Courtland took over on the Sherando 1, and Greene scored from a yard out on second down to put the Cougars ahead 13-6 with 6:17 left in the first half.
But the Warriors responded with two scoring drives in the final three minutes to take some momentum into the locker room at the half.
On third-and-nine at the Courtland 27, Entsminger connected with Josh Ojo for a 26-yard gain to set the Warriors up with a first-and-goal at the 1. Aston scored from a yard out to cap an eight-play, 59-yard drive to tie the game 13-13 with 2:47 left.
After the Cougars went three-and-out on their next possession, Adam Whitacre’s 36-yard punt return set Sherando up with a short field at the Courtland 23.
Five plays later, Entsminger scored from two yards out and Morris added the extra point to put Sherando ahead 20-13 with 0:27 left in the half.
Entsminger — who rushed for 78 yards on 16 carries and completed 4 of 7 attempts for 72 yards passing — said scoring on their first possession of the game was also key.
“We scored on the first drive and that was huge for us,” said Entsminger, who rushed for 51 yards and completed both passes for 29 yards on the opening drive. “Our offense scoring set the tempo for the rest of the game. That’s a good football team and you’ve got to give them credit. But our offense stepped up when we needed it and our defense stepped up when we needed it. That was a team effort right there.”
Jenkins said Sherando had a lot of players step up and make key plays.
“They’ve got good athletes — I’ll give them that,” said Jenkins, who rushed for two touchdowns. “They’re a good football team, and I hope they take it all the way.”
Jenkins was one of three Courtland backs who entered the game with more than 1,000 rushing yards, but Sherando’s ground game proved to be just as formidable with Eppard, Entsminger and Aston combining for 248 total yards.
Now, the Warriors get a home game next Saturday against Salem for the 4A North Region title with a berth in the state championship on the line.
“We’re looking forward to that and we know [Salem] is a great team,” Aston said. “We’re going to have to step it up and have a great week of practice and we’ll be ready to go.”
— Contact Robert Stocks at firstname.lastname@example.org
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