No. 10 Liberty (5-0, 2-0) at Sherando (4-1, 2-0)
When: Tomorrow, 7:30 p.m.
Sherando senior wide receiver Corey Johnson (6-1, 170) against Liberty junior defensive back Adrian Hull (5-7, 165) and senior defensive back Steven Lewis (5-10, 187).
Sherando boasts one of the most balanced offensive attacks in the AA Northwestern District. The Warriors have passed for 633 yards this season and rushed for 606. They'll need every bit of that versatility this week against a Liberty defense that has recorded three consecutive shutouts and is yielding an average of four points per game.
The Eagles know they must slow junior tailback Joe Oher (562 yards, 6 touchdowns) to win. They also must contain Johnson, a returning all-district wide receiver who has a considerable size advantage against his defensive counterparts. Johnson has caught a team-high 16 of senior quarterback Jordan Gibson's 43 completions this season for 351 yards and 4 touchdowns.
"They're not only the most balanced team we've played, they're the best team we've played so far," Liberty Coach Tommy Buzzo said. "Oher is as tough as all-get-out in the backfield, but we know they're going to put the ball up, too. We'll rotate our corners on [Johnson] and hope our speed will offset his size."
Sherando's 20-19 come-from-behind victory over Handley on Saturday -- its first win over the Judges since 1997 -- sets up this game with Liberty as the game in the AA Northwestern District. The winner will own first place in the district and be on pace for a playoff run.
"If I'm sitting in their coaches' office, I'm thinking this is the district championship game for me," said Buzzo, whose team will face third-place Handley (3-2) and Millbrook (3-2) in the next two weeks. Sherando does not have an opponent remaining who currently has a winning record. "They've been through the hardest part of their schedule, and we're just starting ours. Win or lose, we have to come back and get ready for a tough game next week. They win, and they're sitting pretty."
Of course, winning will prove a mighty task for Sherando. Though the Warriors have reeled off four straight victories since falling, 19-13, to Jefferson (W. Va.) in their season opener, they have yet to face a team like Liberty. In addition to their stingy defense, the Eagles (1,574 yards rushing, 240 passing) are also averaging 40.6 points per game and have scored 60 points or more twice. Senior tailback Justin Carrington, who averages a gaudy 9.7 yards per carry, leads the district champions with 812 yards rushing and 14 total touchdowns.
"I think this Liberty team is just as good as the one last year that went undefeated" through the regular season, Sherando Coach Bill Hall said. "They must have a tremendous offseason program because those kids are strong and tough. We're trying to establish that kind of depth and strength here. But they are the ones with tradition riding on their side. Winning breeds winning. But to be the best, you have to beat the best, and our kids are looking forward to that opportunity. We know the district championship goes through them."