By Jeremy Stafford -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- After dealing with three years of nagging, Shenandoah head coach Paul Barnes finally caved, and quarterback Vern Lunsford finally got his way.
Of course, it wasn't only Lunsford who had begged Barnes to order red jerseys as the Hornets' alternate uniform color -- plenty of players shared in the pleading -- but Lunsford was certainly the ringleader.
On Friday night, Barnes unveiled the new crimson jerseys to his team; on Saturday night, after warming up in their midnight blue tops, the Hornets surprised a crowd of 2,457 as they came out of their home locker room, clad for the first time ever at home in a color other than blue.
"I think everyone was pretty fired up about it," Lunsford said. "We had been bugging him for a while, trying to get them. We didn't even know it was going to happen, so it was a pretty big deal last night.
"We kinda went crazy, but we really appreciated it -- it was awesome."
But the exhibition of the Hornets' new uniforms was overshadowed by Shenandoah's 21-13 loss to Bridgewater, and the return of former SU tailback Teley Tate, who is in his first season with the Eagles. Tate rushed for 192 yards on 22 carries, and broke a 70-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter in his brilliant return to Winchester.
After leaving Shenandoah to be closer to his daughter, Tayla, in Staunton, Tate attended Liberty University before finally enrolling at Bridgewater this year.
"I just missed my daughter so much, and at Bridgewater, I can see her every day," Tate said. "That's the main reason, I mean, I liked [Shenandoah], I like the football program and all that, it's just, I had to be home with my daughter."
And Bridgewater coach Michael Clark is certainly happy to have Tate, who provides the Eagles with the power-running game they lacked a year ago, when they lost to the Hornets 10-6.
"I thought a year ago we didn't compete well in games like this that were about hit you in the face, control the line of scrimmage football," said Clark, who admitted he was a bit worried when he noticed the large stature of the SU players before the game.
"I don't think a year ago we could have pounded the ball on somebody. In many respects, I think the thing we did best today is the thing Shenandoah is known for: We ran the football."
But while Bridgewater's ball control obviously kept the Shenandoah offense off the field and out of a rhythm, it was the Eagles' big plays that made all the difference by game's end. Bridgewater's three touchdowns came off a 98-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Hagan Driskell to wideout Tyler Beiler, a fake field goal run, and Tate's 70-yard run, respectively.
No one on the Shenandoah sideline could help but think that this loss, the Hornets' first of the season, was avoidable.
"As a team, as a whole, we know we can win," middle linebacker Joe Lunsford said. "We feel like we're a better team ... and, yeah, we have confidence still. We talked about it in the locker room, we still think we can win.
"They were a good team, I'm not taking anything away from them, but we also made mistakes, too, and when you do that and mess up a lot, you ain't gonna win a game."
Indeed, each Shenandoah player seemed to have his own explanation for the loss. For Joe Lunsford, it was the fake field goal, a 41-yarder which quickly became a 24-yard touchdown run by Eagles holder and Stonewall Jackson graduate Patrick Smoot.
For Vern Lunsford, it was the handful of incomplete passes he threw to wideout Rico Wallace. On a couple occasions, when Wallace had beaten his man to the end zone, Lunsford's passes sailed high.
No matter the reason, though, whether it was a single play or a cluster of misplays, the number of points the Hornets gave up, for Joe Lunsford, was inexcusable.
"Defensively, you can't let up 21 points," he said. "I think our offense is a great offense, I think they can score a lot too, but when you have great defenses like a Bridgewater team, it's gonna be hard for them to score ... you can't just expect them to score every time."
There were a few bright spots for the Hornets, though. They did manage to put together a scoring drive on their final possession, proving that the offense didn't have to rely on big plays to put up points.
And tailback Keone Kyle showed once again he's a back to be reckoned with, rushing for 96 yards and accumulating 118 all-purpose yards. Fullback Anthony Cordero scored his second touchdown of the season on a 38-yard run in first quarter.
Cordero rushed for 80 yards on 10 carries, and Vern Lunsford threw for 108 yards on nine completions. The Hornets gained 315 yards, but gave up 423 yards.
Barnes, who considered waiting until later in the season to unveil the red jerseys, instead decided to sport them Saturday because he "wanted to bring them out against a good team."
Bridgewater proved without a doubt to be a good team, and with the loss, the red garments will be boxed up and tucked away somewhere in the SU locker room, for how long no one is certain.
"We'll wear them, I don't know how many times we'll wear them," Barnes explained. "Good things are still gonna happen to us, and we'll wear red -- we will win in red."