By Jeremy Stafford -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- The play stuck in their minds like a gob of chewing gum pasted to a lock of hair.
Up 20-17 in overtime, Shenandoah had Catholic cornered in an inescapable fourth-and-12 on the Hornets' 27. Catholic lined up for a 42-yard field goal but botched the snap. By the time anyone in Shentel Stadium realized what happened, though, Cardinals noseguard Sean Green had waltzed his way into the end zone, having received a desperate pass from third-string quarterback Dan Jones. Catholic, for the third year in a row, beat Shenandoah in a tight game, 23-20.
"I've been thinking about that since the game ended last year," Hornets wideout E.J. Brown said. "It's kinda hard to believe that that happened, but we have another chance to prove ourselves to them.
"They know we play hard, simple and plain, but I just want it so much more this year because of what happened last year, and the year before."
Though it's always hard to lose a game on a trick-play, this loss was especially troubling for the Hornets, as they had stormed their way back from a 17-3 deficit, and had an opportunity to win the game on a late field goal attempt.
With 45 seconds left in regulation, Nic Hoover's 54-yard attempt fell short.
In 2006, Catholic defeated Shenandoah 17-6; in 2007, the Hornets lost a 7-6 heartbreaker. Each of those losses will burn in the hearts of the Shenandoah seniors Saturday, when they travel to Catholic for their season-opener.
"We remember what happened last year, and the year before that, and the year before that, since I've been here," senior defensive end Mo Salih said. "It's all been close games. We lost last year, overtime, the year before that, by one point.
"We don't plan on it being this close."
With nearly the entire offense returning, the Hornets' hopes are high that they can improve on, or at least replicate, the 345 yards they thrashed the Cardinal defense for last season. And with four-year starting quarterback Keith Ricca graduated, Catholic will likely start sophomore quarterback Dylan Knight.
Salih said that, based on the scrimmage tape he's watched, Knight has shown a remarkable tendency to scramble when under pressure. For Salih, forcing Knight out of the pocket and coercing him to make inaccurate passes will be integral for the Hornets' defense.
"We're pretty fast on defense and we can keep up with that," he said. "We can move pretty well, our line moves pretty well.
"On film it looks like he's gonna try to run. We feel pretty confident that we can catch him."
Hornets coach Paul Barnes agreed, noting that although Shenandoah will be young in the secondary -- Chris Rouse, Kevin Aaron, Larry Gibbs and Sean Purcell are all sophomores -- the veteran linebackers and linemen are smart and experienced enough to make defensive plays. If not, they should at least disrupt the Catholic offense often enough that the young defensive backs will be able to make their own plays.
"You can't replace grass-time, you can't replace it," Barnes explained. "A lot of these guys are two, three-year starters and they know what to expect."
The defense certainly expects to see a Catholic offense, run out of a spread formation, which averaged 32.6 points per game last season. Barnes and the Shenandoah defense are confident that, as long as the Hornets limit their mistakes and play up to the standards they set for themselves in the preseason, the bus ride from Washington to Winchester on Saturday night should be a pleasant one.
"We feel pretty good about our chances," Salih said. "If we execute what we have to do, [it] shouldn't be a problem.
"We should come home happy."
A LONG WAIT AND SOME LOST WEIGHT -- What reason was there for Anthony Cordero to think his role at Shenandoah would change? With tailback Kevin Roberts averaging 104.9 rushing yards a game last year as a junior, and with B.J. Smoot blossoming into a pass-catching threat out of the backfield, Cordero had every reason to believe he would remain a run-blocking fullback.
That is until a recurring health-issue forced Roberts out of this season, and academic ineligibility forced Smoot out of Shenandoah University. Suddenly, Cordero found himself entering the 2009 season as the Hornets' most experienced rusher.
Though Cordero is still listed as a fullback, the junior was told over the summer to prepare for this season as though he were a tailback.
"I lost about 15 pounds -- I came in lighter, faster, so I was ready to go back there if I needed to," said Cordero, who worked himself through a regimen of constant running, sprinting and light-weight, high-rep lifting sessions.
Freshman Keone Kyle will get the start at tailback, with sophomore Brandon Hayes listed as Kyle's backup; but the lighter, fleeter Cordero expects he will see time running between the tackles, too.
When asked about how he expects to perform at tailback, a position he hasn't played since high school, Cordero could only laugh: "I don't know if I'm gonna break the long runs like Kevin and Smoot, but I'll definitely try to get the hard yards that coach Barnes likes, the 3- to 5-yard runs."