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Hornets prepared for tough opponent


By Jeremy Stafford -- jstafford@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- Anyone can spit out a slew of football terms.

Stunts, slants, shifts, x stunts, weakside zone blitz -- none are too difficult to slip into common conversation.

But true football knowledge comes from the ability to recognize those terms as they play out on the field, in the midst of a savage game, and inside of 30 seconds.

Speaking of the Randolph-Macon College defense, it's obvious Shenandoah quarterback Vern Lunsford has that knowledge.

"On weakside zones, their ends will drop -- especially on the weak side -- they'll drop into a zone and bring two 'backers off that side," he explained.

Watching film has helped Lunsford distinguish the kind of formations and blitzes Randolph-Macon runs; it's also shown him there isn't a single player that stands out on the Yellow Jacket defense.

On film, every one of them looks good.

"I don't have pinned down one person, per say," he said. "They look pretty solid all the way around."

But after seeing Lunsford manage the barrage of Bridgewater blitzes he faced last Saturday in a 21-13 loss, Hornets coach Paul Barnes has few concerns that his senior signal-caller can hold his own against the Yellow Jackets.

"He's a mature quarterback -- he's seen it," Barnes said. "He's been back there when he was getting pummeled as a sophomore, and they were throwing all this stuff, and we weren't protecting as much as we are now.

"I just think we're better a little bit up front, but he's able to manage and recognize things better -- recognize coverages."

What Vern will look for Saturday is a sliver of an opening, somewhere between Randolph-Macon's blitzing linebackers, dropping linemen, and deep, floating safeties, for wideout Rico Wallace to snuggle himself into. With a lack of big plays and deep balls last Saturday -- Lunsford and Wallace's best connection was a 49-yard pass -- the tandem have put a heavy dose of practice time into perfecting their timing on deep routes.

"It's one of our goals to have plays of over 20 yards on the explosion plays," Lunsford said. "You want to have three or four of those a game, just to try [keep] the defense guessing."

A paranoid defense leaves gaping holes for tailback Kenone Kyle to hammer through, which leads to sustained drives, scored points, and a chewed up game clock.

All of which will be integral Saturday if the Hornets hope to beat the winless but talented Yellow Jackets. With close losses to King's College and Johns Hopkins, Randolph-Macon, a team which started 0-2 last year when they won the ODAC championship, returns quarterback Austin Faulkner, who has passed for 415 yards and two touchdowns thus far.

Hornets defensive end Mo Salih said that Faulkner may be the most talented quarterback Shenandoah has faced so far this season.

"He moves pretty well -- he can throw the ball," Salih said. "It all comes down to playing our assignments: If we just play our assignments and do our job we'll be fine, we'll win. If they do their job, they'll win.

"We just gotta execute."

BATTLES IN THE TRENCHES: Shenandoah operates under a simple philosophy: With exceptional play from the offensive and defensive lines comes championships.

With an experienced offensive line and an aggressive defensive line to work with, Barnes believes he has the proper tools to bring a USA South championship back to Shenandoah.

And Randolph-Macon, the defending ODAC champions, should provide Barnes with a reliable assessment of where his Hornets stand.

Specifically, Barnes will be looking at how his defensive line applies pressure on Faulkner. If Salih and fellow defensive end Blake Campbell, along with tackles Nick Erdman and T.J. Dodd, can create enough pressure on their own to disrupt Faulkner, the Hornets' secondary should have little trouble covering deep passes and limiting big plays.

But if linebackers and safeties are needed to aid the line in the pass rush, the Hornets might have a rough time defending Faulkner's passes to wideout Earl People, who has 11 receptions for 253 yards.

"If you have to add a fifth or sixth guy to the pass rush, then that limits the amount of stuff you can do," Barnes said. "So, I believe if you have four guys who can get after it, then you're gonna be a pretty good defense. The teams that won here, we had four pretty good d-linemen; I think we have some good d-linemen now."

THE BUFFER GAME: Barnes isn't slow to admit that there's a lot riding on Saturday's game: "There's pressure just to play better -- that's the pressure, the pressure to play better, and to hopefully get the 'W.'"

But there's also the pressure of going into an early bye week with a winning record -- a priceless achievement considering the Hornets open conference play at Christopher Newport on Oct. 3.

In recent years, Shenandoah's bye came midseason, typically in week six, after the Hornets had already played two conference games. Often, Barnes would know where he stood in the conference before he even entered his bye week.

But with two weeks to prepare for a conference matchup and a run to USA South championship, a fine performance Saturday could launch the Hornets into the bye with high spirits.

"Now the bye week's earlier, it's before conference play, we can use those two weeks to really improve tremendously," Barnes said. "Win or lose, we'll still work hard because we'll have the conference in front of us. But just for a positive aspect, it's very important."



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