VAN- Sherman and Van will be playing for more than cross-county bragging rights when they meet for the fifth annual “Showdown for the Shovel” Friday night at Van’s Herschel Jarrell Field.
To Friday’s victor goes the spade, an old, rusty coal shovel awarded to the winner and has resided in Sherman since the trophy was introduced four years ago.
But there is more at stake than a trophy in Friday’s rivalry game for Sherman (4-2) and Van (4-2), who seek to secure two of the 16 spots in the Class A playoff field. With four weeks remaining in the high school football season teams are jockeying for positioning while others look to stay in the picture.
Both schools are deadlocked in a three-way tie for 14th with Tyler Consolidated (4-2) in the latest West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission ratings.
A win for Sherman wouldn’t guarantee a playoff spot, but it would put them in a position to clinch a berth in weeks to come.
“When you have two losses in Class A everything is close,” Sherman coach Kevin Buzzard said. “Every game from here on out will be important.”
Van, who has just nine games, may need to win out if they have any hopes of qualifying for the 16-team Class A playoff field. The Bulldogs have games left with Buffalo (1-4) and Tug Valley (2-3).
“We are just inside the top 16 and this game has huge playoff implications.” Van coach Mark Agosti said. “We are approaching it as if we have to win out and given who is left on our schedule that is a tough hill to climb.”
The last time these teams met with this much on the line was in 2018, when both teams met in the regular season finale and both entered the contest on eight-game winning streaks, but it was 11th-ranked Sherman who propelled victorious with a 30-0 shutout of 10th-ranked Van.
Both teams qualified for the Class A playoffs that year. Sherman would host and defeated 10th-ranked Parkersburg Catholic before falling on the road to second-ranked Midland Trail in the quarterfinals. Van dropped to 12th and was defeated by fifth-ranked Cameron in the opening round that year.
Both teams enter the contest off a loss, ironically to the same school, Mount View. Sherman, coming off a bye, was defeated by the fourth-ranked Golden Knights, 44-18, on Oct. 1.
“It was great to have a bye week,” Buzzard said. “The boys have been going hard since August and we needed the bye.”
Last week in the rain and mud, the Golden Knights defeated Van, 12-8, in a game of lost opportunities as the Bulldogs turned the football over five times.
“We played hard, shut down their running game and the wet conditions limited their passing game,” Agosti said. “We just gave the ball up too many times, but our kids played hard and never quit.”
Sherman comes into the contest having lost two-of-its-last-three games, but will look to establish the run led by it’s senior duo of C.J. Winnell and Colby Buzzard. Winnell has rushed for 499 yards on 83 carries and six touchdowns. Buzzard, who missed last year’s game with injury, has carried the ball 51 times for 492 yards and three touchdowns.
Junior quarterback TJ Hager has proven himself to be a dual threat, throwing for 578 yards and six touchdowns while rushing for 328 yards and two touchdowns.
Senior Dalton Rollo (five catches, 163 yards, 2 touchdowns), Andrew Simpson (3 catches, 110 yards, 3 touchdowns), Winnell (13 catches, 100 yards) and Buzzard (9 catches, 123 yards) have been the primary targets for Hager.
“Sherman is a good team, their backfield is very skilled and quick,” Agosti said. “They are well coached and it will be a challenge for our kids, but they are extremely excited about the opportunity.”
Van has a freshman quarterback who has gained a lot of experience under center. Guner Flores has thrown for 356 yards on 22 completions and one touchdown. Flores has also rushed for 237 yards on 46 attempts.
Junior Brady Green leads a Van rushing attack that has rushed for over 1,400 yards and is averaging nearly seven yards per carry. Green has rushed for 661 yards on 97 carried and scored eight touchdowns.
Senior Shaun Booth (237 yards, 3 touchdowns) and junior Byron Stewart (170 yards, 2 touchdowns) have made their presence felt out of the backfield.
Booth (9 catches, 166 yards, 2 touchdowns) and Green (9 catches, 123 yards) are Flores’ primary targets.
“They’re a good team and they are well coached,” Buzzard said. “They’ve had a couple of tough games like us so it’ll be a good game.”
Van’s key to success will depend on its ability to take care of the pigskin on offense and limit Sherman’s opportunities on offense.
“We have to limit turnovers and try to find a way to contain Hager, Winnell and Buzzard,” Agosti said. “All three are exceptional athletes and we need to try to control the clock and limit their possessions.”
For Sherman, success will rely on the battle up front and forcing turnovers.
“That’s the key to every game I think,” Buzzard said. “We have to win the turnover battle and win up front.”
Sherman leads the all-time series with Van, 45-19-0, and will be looking for its fifth straight victory in the series.
“Winning and bringing the shovel back home is a great feeling,” Buzzard said. “I know it’s a feeling that they (Van) want so they’ll be ready to play this week.”