Warriors fall to Eagles 27-10
Posted: November 10, 2012
STEPHENS CITY — For the first 31 minutes Friday night, about the best thing you could say about the Liberty football team’s rushing attack was that it took time off the clock — the Eagles had just 12 yards on 15 carries.
But by going to the dead-T formation, it came alive — and went a long way toward killing off Sherando’s hopes of victory.
Though the No. 4 seed Warriors gained 345 yards to the No. 5 Eagles’ 222, it was Liberty that walked off with a 27-10 victory in the Region II, Division 4 quarterfinals thanks in large part to their ability to make the big plays when it needed to.
The Eagles (7-4) held Sherando (6-5) to 10 points on four trips inside the red zone, blocked one punt that led to a field goal, and got touchdown passes of 35 and 28 yards from Tyler Longerbeam.
But perhaps no plays were bigger than the 11 runs they made on an 80-yard touchdown drive that pushed their lead to 24-10 with 11:39 left in the fourth quarter, which was a noticeable deficit for a Sherando offense that isn’t built to play catch-up that late in the game.
Liberty put 6-foot-5, 265-pound senior Wyatt Teller — who has made a verbal commitment to play for Virginia Tech next year on the defensive line — four yards behind the line of scrimmage and flanked him with two other backs in a tightly bunched formation, and the Eagles proceeded to eat up huge chunks of yards to put the Warriors’ stout run defense on their heels.
Aristotle Howard finished off the drive by scoring from 5 yards out to end the five-minute drive and make it 24-10 and provide a huge lift for Liberty.
“We usually just have [that formation for] short-yardage, but it wound up getting us some big gains,” said Teller, who carried the ball three times for 20 yards on the drive and sprung some big runs with his blocks. “[That formation] is about pounding them in the mouth and taking the energy out of them, and I guess it worked.
“I’m not saying they weren’t fighting, but we were basically taking control on that drive.”
Sherando kept the drive alive by jumping offsides from third-and-3 from its own 41, then watched Howard sweep to the right for 25 yards on the next play. Liberty also got a double-reverse run in which Howard handed off to Jaquan Sinclair for an 11-yard gain to the Sherando 16 on second-and-8.
“It was a lot of people to contain,” said Sherando senior defensive end Chris Smith (4.5 tackles, including his area-leading 13th sack).
Sherando coach Bill Hall said the Warriors just didn’t respond the way they needed to to that formation.
But if Sherando had been able to take advantage of the previous possession, that drive might not have been as significant.
The Warriors rushed for 224 yards behind senior Taylor Loudan (121 yards on 26 carries) and junior George Aston (103 yards on 21 carries), but with the score 17-10, a 73-yard Warrior drive stalled at the Liberty 8. With a first-and-10 at the 11, three Sherando runs netted just 3 yards.
Tylar Clowser was then sent out to attempt a 25-yard field goal, but his attempt bounced off the crossbar and back with 4:41 left in the third quarter.
“To keep them to [field goal attempts] was huge,” Liberty coach Sean Finnerty said. “The defense played their butts off all night, bend but don’t break.”
The Warriors were also forced to settle for a Clowser field goal in the second quarter after they had a first-and-10 at the 11. He made that one from 25 yards out to cut Liberty’s lead to 6-3 with 7:28 left in the second quarter.
Aston would score from 7 yards out on the next drive to give Sherando a 10-6 lead with 3:26 to go in the second quarter. But not scoring touchdowns in the red zone — and having to play from a two-touchdown deficit in the fourth — was too much for Sherando’s offense to overcome, though Loudan did finish with 121 yards on 9-of-22 passing.
“I thought we did a good job coming out in the second half marching the ball down the field, and I thought we did a good job establishing some pace with our offense,” said Hall, whose team’s offensive formations improved by going with quick huddles that kept them in rhythm and stifled Liberty’s shifts and slants. “... The difference in the ball game was really the big plays and that drive where they went straight down the field.
“And our offense isn’t built right now to where we can throw the ball down the field. We kind of have to churn it out and take advantage of some play-action stuff when we have our opportunities. So when we went down two scores, obviously that was a large obstacle.”
Another big hurdle for the Warriors was overcoming Liberty’s late first-half heroics.
After Sherando went up 10-6 with 3:26 left in the first half, Longerbeam (5 of 8 for 119 yards and two touchdowns) completed a 32-yard pass before throwing a 28-yard touchdown pass that made it 14-10 Liberty after a two-point conversion. Then the Eagles blocked a punt with 35 seconds left that gave Liberty the ball at the Sherando 21, leading to a 31-yard field goal by Ryan Morris that made it 17-10 as the first-half clock expired.
Though the Warriors lost an opening-round playoff game at home for the second straight year, they were proud of their season. They started 1-3, and saw quarterback and safety Reid Entsminger go down with a broken collarbone in their seventh game. But they won three of four regular season games without him and won their second straight Barr-Lindon Crimson Apple title.
“I think we did an amazing job,” Smith said. “We had great players, and I know the team is going to be amazing next year. This year was great. I loved it.”
“I’m proud of our guys,” Hall said. “I thought we did a heck of a job.
“We were 1-3, and our kids learned some valuable life lessons. We kind of got ourselves into [that rough start], and our kids did a great job just coming to work every day, and staying committed and believing in each other, and we dug ourselves right out of it. ... They were a great group to work with ... and I think they represent all that’s good about Sherando.”
— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow on Twitter @WinStarSports1