With the departure of record-breaking quarterback Kent Henry, junior running back Oliver Herndon knew that he would need to take on a bigger role this fall, starting in the Warriors’ season-opener against Spotswood.
For the past three seasons, Henry was essentially the entire the running game, and the current Franklin & Marshall College signal-caller was also a steady hand in the defensive backfield.
If Friday night’s 23-15 triumph over the Trailblazers is a sign of things to come, Western is in excellent hands with Herndon leading the way on both offense and defense.
Clinging to an eight-point lead in the final five minutes, the junior picked off a pass to put an end to a promising Spotswood drive. Four minutes later, the Trailblazers threatened to send the game into overtime after a 32-yard diving catch by Andrew McDaniel put Spotswood in Warrior territory.
Four plays later, Herndon stood tall once again, batting down a pass from Alex Polglase to preserve the victory.
“[The receiver] initially beat me inside, and I just had to recover, ”said Herndon of the game-saving pass breakup. “[Spotswood] was running all over us in the second half and we just had to close them out on defense.”
Herndon was the workhorse on offense as well, carrying the ball 17 times for 158 yards. Of those 17 carries, his biggest was an 81-yard scamper for a touchdown in the third quarter to put Western ahead by two scores.
Herndon wore down the Spotswood defense throughout the night, grinding out five to six yards at a time, with occasional big gainer. The long run in the third quarter was in response to a Spotswood touchdown on the previous series, and the momentum began to shift back towards the home team.
“This is Oliver’s third year; he’s only a junior, but this is his third year in the program,” Western Albemarle head coach Ed Redmond said. “He’s an experienced kid, he’s worked hard in the weight room and he’s just a real north/south kid. When he gets his shoulders going downhill, he’s a tough kid to bring down.”
Henry departed Western Albemarle after racking up 10,000 career yards, and laying the foundation for Redmond’s offense in Crozet. Despite the loss of the game-breaking QB, Redmond kept the shotgun-spread offense the same, with a heavy does of quarterback draws and wide receiver sweeps.
Juniors Sam Hearn and Henry Kreienbaum battled it out all summer for the vacancy left by Henry under center, but the two would turn out to be each other’s greatest allies on Friday night.
Western’s first series of the game started with back-to-back penalties, but the two juniors engineered an eight-play, 90-yard drive that culminated with a 43-yard run to pay dirt by Kreienbaum. In the second half, the new dynamic duo would hook up again when Hearn hit Kreienbaum on a play-action slant, and the 6-foot-2, 202-pound athlete rumbled 67 yards to the house for a score.
“This whole offseason, Sam and I were working hard trying to improve and trying improve each other,” Kreienbaum said. “I think it really helped us bond as athletes and teammates, and I think that helped out tonight with some of the timing stuff; running routes and throwing the ball back and forth.”
Hearn started the contest under center, completing 3 of 10 passes for 80 yards and a touchdown. Kreienbaum did a little bit of everything, compiling 134 yards of total offense and two scores. The quarterback/wide receiver spent a little time running the offense as well. It was Kreienbaum who handed the ball to Herndon for the 81-yard touchdown. Redmond says that he will continue to utilize both versatile juniors at quarterback and on the outside.
“It’s a situation where you have two pretty good athletes, but you can only play one quarterback,” Redmond said. “We’re going to continue to compete at that position, but at that same token, Henry gives us that ability to run the ball from the outside-edge, so we’re tinkering on offense trying to find our identity and get the ball to our playmakers as much as we can.”
The youth movement was on full display on the Western Albemarle offense. In addition to Henry’s graduation, the Warriors aso had to replace every single player that caught a pass on last year’s team. Fortunately, there was plenty of young talent in the pipeline from the junior varsity team that won the 2013 district title. Many of the former JV Warriors made their varsity debuts on Friday night, including Kreienbaum, who was the quarterback on the championship squad.
On his 15th birthday, freshman Derek Domecq recorded the first carry of the game.
Defensively, Josh Meeks led Western with eight total tackles. Osiris Crutchfield had a strong showing as well, with seven total stops. Crutchfield came on towards the end of last season, and the 6-3, 219-pound defensive stalwart began his junior campaign with four quarterback hurries, and a big punt block that setup a 27-yard field goal by University of Virginia-bound placekicker Holland Corbett.
The Warriors cleared a big hurdle with a victory over Spotswood on Friday night. Like Western, the Trailblazers compete in the 3A West Region, and will be jockeying for playoff position with WAHS. Last season, Spotswood was the No. 6 seed in 3A West, and Redmond knows that grinding out a win against a quality opponent will do wonders for his young team’s confidence going forward.
“I think that was a great win for our football program,” Redmond noted. “As we go into next week, it’s important that the kids have experienced success. When you start to win those types of games, you begin to find your identity. When that develops, I think we’re going to be a pretty good football team.”
“Right now, we’re plugging a long, and we’re just trying to improve.”
Western will return home next Friday night to host nearby rival Waynesboro.