By Brian Eller - email@example.com
BRIDGEWATER -- Brad Martz sat slumped in his chair, fielding questions from local media. He bore marks of a man who had just left everything out on the field. His jersey was patches of brown and white, his one finger bloodstained and continuing to bleed.
To his left sat linebacker John Redmond, a junior who knows all too well the heartbreak of watching his team fall in the final minutes, this time at the hands of the Bridgewater Eagles. Shenandoah had its chances, even leading in the second half.
It wasn't enough, however, as a valiant effort from the Hornets fell short, leaving Shenandoah with a 38-31 loss to Bridgewater.
"Angry," Redmond said coldly, of his feelings on the loss. "I never thought we'd start 0-2 again, especially in the fashion we have."
For Shenandoah, that recent "fashion" has been any number of unique blunders, whether it's a late penalty, a costly turnover or falling victim to a trick play. Last season, the Hornets dropped their final nine games following an opening day win. And on Saturday, the streak continued. This time, however, it would be a perfectly executed fake field goal that would cost Shenandoah its chance to bring home a win.
Early on it looked as if Shenandoah wouldn't have to worry about suffering another heartbreaking loss in the final minutes, as Bridgewater's offense came out firing. Touchdown drives of 39 and 60 yards helped put the Eagles in the end zone on their first two possessions, forcing the Hornets' defense to make some much-needed adjustments.
"We tried to eliminate the big plays and early on they were able to get two or three of us so we saw ourselves in a bit of a deficit," Redmond said, "but we sat back, brought less pressure and had some great individuals step up for us."
Fortunately for the Hornets, no adjustments were needed for the offense, as quarterback Daniel Wright worked with wide receiver Rico Wallace on a 59-yard drive midway through the first quarter, eventually connecting on a 23-yard touchdown pass to the right sideline. Wright found Wallace again in the second quarter, this time on a 17-yard fade route in the back corner of the end zone, leaving Bridgewater with a 16-14 lead heading into halftime.
As the second half got under way, Shenandoah turned to a relatively unfamiliar face in Martz, the team's third-string running back. After starting tailback Kevin Roberts was suspended for one game for violating team rules and a first-half injury to senior Keone Kyle, Martz became the Hornets' feature back, and on their first drive of the second half he proved the shortage of running backs wouldn't be a problem.
"Right when we came out to start the second half, holes just opened up and that's when we found the success," Martz said. "It's a lot different because in practice you rotate in and out with other guys, but here you're getting it back-to-back and it takes a toll on your body."
Whatever toll it was taking on Martz, the sophomore adjusted, as he led Shenandoah on a three-play, 23-yard drive, finishing it off with an 8-yard run up the middle to put the Hornets in front, 21-16.
Meanwhile, Shenandoah seemed to have righted the ship defensively, thanks in large part to senior linebacker Blake Campbell. Campbell was a constant hassle for Bridgewater quarterback Hagan Driskell, totaling seven tackles, including 2 1⁄2 sacks, 2 1⁄2 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles.
"It's probably No. 1," Campbell said of his best performances. "I had a good game against Bridgewater my freshman year, so I've had a couple good games against them. ...Before the game, coach [Paul] Barnes told me just to go out there and have fun and I was able to relax a little bit more and I got to move around a lot."
It looked as if the adjustments on defense had worked for Shenandoah, and the offense would be in position to win its first game in more than a year. Then, as it so often seems to do, tragedy struck the Hornets.
With the score tied at 24 late in the fourth quarter, Bridgewater lined up to try a 21-yard field goal. The idea that it would be a fake had entered the mind of Shenandoah before -- Bridgewater converted a fake field goal in last season's matchup -- so the Hornets were in position to try and thwart any type of trickery.
Sure enough, the Eagles had called a fake. Holder Jacob Hutchinson took the snap, raced to his feet, then spun toward the right side of the field. The Hornets weren't caught off guard, but it soon became a foot race between Shenandoah defenders and Hutchinson. As he saw a clearing toward the front right pylon, Hutchinson turned on the jets, narrowly crossing the goal line before a Shenandoah defender could reach him, giving Bridgewater the touchdown.
"As soon as I saw it was a fake, I thought it was going to be a pass play, because the tight end and the wing released down field like they were coming out on a route," Redmond said. "It wasn't that we weren't ready for it. We just didn't execute, simple as that."
From there, things unraveled for the Hornets, as Wright offered up an interception on the next drive, which was returned for a touchdown for the Eagles and dropping the Hornets to 0-2 on the season.
"We had the good play calls, I just made too many mistakes," Wright said. "I shouldn't have tried to force the throw on the pick six, and our offense was moving the ball well. I just let us down."