By Jeremy Stafford - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- The Shenandoah defense had done its job, had forced Catholic to turn the ball over on downs in the waning moments of Saturday night's contest.
And so Daniel Wright, Shenandoah's first-year starting quarterback, with just over a minute to play, picked up from the Hornet 10-yard line with Shenandoah down three points.
Wright completed four passes to wide receiver Brian Calloway for 41 yards, then threw a 13-yard completion to wideout Rico Wallace.
Suddenly, Shenandoah stood on the Catholic 36 with 22 seconds remaining.
A screen play to Hornets tailback Kevin Roberts was intended to pick up a first down. Instead, Roberts was pulled down at the Catholic 30 with just over four seconds remaining and the clock still ticking.
The game might have ended then. The SU offense wanted to spike the ball and the field goal unit wanted to scramble for a game-tying kick.
Who knows what might have happened had a referee's bright yellow cloth not fluttered to the turf of Sprint Field at Shentel Stadium, stopping the clock?
What did happen was this: the unexplained penalty was waved off, marking the night's fourth waved flag; Catholic took a timeout; former James Wood place kicker Andrew Lloyd lined up for a 48-yard field goal; the snap came high but was well-handled; Lloyd lofted his kick about five yards short of the goal.
Shenandoah suffered a 16-13 loss to Catholic, its sixth three-point loss dating back to Sept. 19 of last year.
"I am furious," Hornets linebacker John Redmond said. "I thought for sure we would have come out and dominated."
"... It wasn't them beating us -- it was us."
Redmond had plenty reason to be furious. After putting on an intense display of surging grit and mettle -- he had 12 tackles, six of them solos, three of them for a loss of nine yards -- he watched his Hornets lose in familiar yet foreign fashion.
It was familiar because it marked Shenandoah's 10th consecutive loss, counting last season's 1-9 effort.
It was foreign because the Hornets, normally a well-disciplined team, had six penalties totaling a loss of 47 yards, and gave up three fumbles.
"I would still put us as a better team than we were last year," Redmond said. "... Mentally is where we need to focus."
Shenandoah, if it hasn't improved since last year, is at least a heck of a lot more dynamic.
Shenandoah's normally robust rushing game was transparent Saturday: Though Hornets tailback Kevin Roberts rushed for 80 yards, SU totaled only 86 yards on the ground.
Wright, on the other hand, shook off his early jitters and threw for 250 yards and a touchdown. Already, his 33 pass attempts Saturday ranks third-most in school history, his 17 completions ranks fifth-most in school history and his 250 passing yards ranks second-most in school history.
Wallace's 168 receiving yards Saturday set a single-game record at SU, and his second reception of the night set Shenandoah's career receiving yards record. Wallace now has 1,023 yards receiving, and he's a catch shy of tying E.J. Brown's record of 67 career receptions.
Shenandoah's first drive of the second half encompassed all the Wright-Wallace tandem is capable of: Wright hit Wallace down the left sideline for a 35-yard touchdown. The drive, in its entirety, lasted only three plays and 56 seconds. And it was both a blessing and a curse: All at once the drive showed how explosive a Daniel Wright-led offense can be and how far the Hornets have yet to go before they can score touchdowns consistently and recurrently.
"Our offense just has to take that momentum and keep it going each series, each drive," Wright said. "We gotta be able to score more than just one time in a half."
A few other deflating statistics: Shenandoah lost the time of possession battle for the first time in at least 11 games. Only in the third quarter did SU hold the ball longer than Catholic. Shenandoah rushed for 136 total yards, but took a loss of 50 rushing yards. Roberts, playing in his first game in over a year, fumbled twice; Derrick Lee fumbled once.
Shenandoah head coach Paul Barnes said many of the mistakes SU made were "first-game mistakes."
"I think the mistakes we made tonight are pretty fixable," he said.
Roberts was more blunt about the loss: "We gotta get better. Definitely room for improvement in every phase of the game."
Shenandoah travels to Bridgewater on Saturday for a 1 p.m. game.