STEPHENS CITY, Va. — Fort Hill came out in a second-half fury after falling behind 14-0 early in the game, smothering the Sherando offense to 43 second-half yards, and scoring 23 unanswered points to beat the previously undefeated Warriors, 23-14, Friday night at Arrowhead Stadium.
The Sentinels, who were outgained 138-82 in first-half total offense, received an enormous boost — emotionally and field position-wise, by Markel Spencer’s second-half kickoff return, the play of quarterback Nathaniel Graves and a safety recorded by linebacker Brayden Poling to not only get back into the game, but take control of the momentum and improve their record to 6-1 entering Friday’s game at Mountain Ridge.
Graves completed 11 of 14 passes for 143 yards, passed for one touchdown to Brayden Brown and scored two more. The Sentinels outgained Sherando (7-1) in offense in the second half, 101-43, to finish with a 283-181 advantage and earned every yard on the ground they gained, led by fullback Raen Smith’s 41.
“It was a great win,” said Fort Hill head coach Todd Appel. “The biggest thing is the kids kept their heads up at halftime after being down 14-0. We played better defensively, which is a good sign for us because we struggled defensively early in the season. But the kids did a great job adjusting with a lot of sets their coach threw at us.
“I’m so proud and blessed to be a part of this, but we can’t look back. Sherando is an old-school style football team, and you better strap it up and play when you play them. Our kids did that, and I’m very happy and proud of our kids, our coaches and our fans who were here to support us.”
The Warriors came out on fire, putting together a 10-play, 76-yard drive to open the game and set the early pace. Sherando used five first downs in the drive, beginning with a 24-yard gain on play-action from quarterback Patrick Minteer to Quayvon Doleman on the first play of the drive. That was followed by an 11-yard gain by running back D.J. Myers to put the ball on the Sherando 41.
On first-and-10 from the Fort Hill 18, Myers clipped off 15 yards two plays before Dylan Rivers, running out of the wildcat formation, took it in from the three at 7:18, with Jacob Sites’ kick making it 7-0.
Fort Hill managed a first down on its first drive but little else, punting from its 34. The Warriors then got deep into Sentinel territory for the first of two consecutive possessions without scoring, being stopped on fourth down from the Fort Hill 24 on the first possession, and from the 19 on the second possession.
The Sentinels, saddled by penalties throughout the first half, were forced to punt again on their third possession of the half, giving the Warriors a starting point of the Fort Hill 33, before it was immediately moved to the 18 on another 15-yard penalty on the Sentinels.
It took just two plays for the Warriors to score, with Myers gaining 12 on first down before going in from six with 6:15 left in the half, with Sites’ kick making it 14-0.
Fort Hill took over at its 20 and had little success, before a Graves to Ethan York completion on a fake punt from the Sentinels’ 27 picked up 32 yards to put the ball on the Sherando 42. On second down, Graves found a wide-open York for a 12-yard gain, but that was nullified by an illegal-receiver-downfield penalty to set up a second-and-14 from the Sherando 46.
The Sentinels were then forced to punt, with Sherando content to run out the clock from inside its 10 to end the half.
To begin the second half, Spencer returned a line-drive kickoff 52 yards to the Sherando 28, before Graves found a wide-open Brown at the goal line for the touchdown to get the Sentinels on the board, with Austin Farrell’s kick making it 14-7.
After the Sherando kick receiver dropped his knee at the Sherando two, Fort Hill linebacker Poling burst through the gap to tackle the Warriors ballcarrier in the end zone for the safety at 11:28 of the third to make it 14-9.
Brown then took the ensuing free kickoff from the Fort Hill 36 to the Sherando 38. A pass completion from Graves to Brown gained 12 before Poling took it eight yards from the Sherando 23 to the 15. Two plays later, Graves ran it in off the fake from 14 yards out to put Fort Hill up at 9:02 of the third, with Farrell’s kick making it 16-14.
The teams then flip-flopped three punts before exchanging turnovers, as Sherando’s David Eppard intercepted a Graves pass at the Fort Hill 40 and returned it to the 30. But Fort Hill stripped Myers of the ball after a big gain and Luke Hamilton recovered to give the Sentinels what would be the game-clinching possession.
With 8:11 left in the fourth, Fort Hill took over from its 23 and put together a 14-play, 76-yard scoring drive. An inside reverse to Brown picked up 13 yards two plays before Poling picked up 14 to put the ball into Sherando territory at the 45.
On third-and-six, Graves found York in the middle of the field on a slant for 18 yards to the 23. After Poling gained another first down and a procedure penalty was called, Graves sneaked up the middle for nine, then again for three to put the ball on the five. On third-and-three from the five, Smith picked up two, forcing Sherando to call its final timeout with 1:15 left in the game. Then on fourth-and-one from the five, Graves dove into the end zone for the touchdown at 1:14 of the fourth, with Farrell’s kick making it 24-14.
Sherando began its final possession at its 37 and would take the ball out to the 46 before Poling intercepted a pass with seven seconds left to effectively finish the game.