By Jeremy Stafford - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Shenandoah football coach Paul Barnes admits his perception of the importance of statistics, as it pertains to wins, is now skewed.
"If stats win games, then we would not have been 1-9 last year," he said. "So I really don't look at it as much as I used to.
"I really threw them out the window because I just worry about one thing: did we win."
Last season Shenandoah led all of D-III football in time of possession, holding the ball for 35:52 every game, but won only once.
Shenandoah also led the USA South in various other statistical categories, including pass defense and total defense.
In its 16-13 loss to Catholic on Saturday, Shenandoah kept possession for only 26:44, which, according to Barnes, has largely become irrelevant.
Especially considering these invariably meaningful statistics from Saturday night: quarterback Daniel Wright zipped eight completions to wide receiver Rico Wallace for 168 yards and a touchdown. To start the third quarter, Shenandoah marched 62 yards in three plays and scored the Hornets' first touchdown of the season.
"Do I want to hold the ball?" Barnes said. "Yes -- but you can't just hold the ball, you have to score."
This year's SU offense has taken a vastly different approach to scoring than in years past.
The philosophy last year: possess the ball for as long as possible, score when given the chance, keep opposing offenses from doing the same.
The philosophy this year: score as many points as possible, run the ball to close out the game, keep opposing offenses from doing the same.
Saturday's performance showed glimmers of Wright's potential once he falls into a rhythm.
"We like the way our two-minute drill went, how we were able to move the ball down the field better than we have in the past," Wright said.
To end the Catholic game, Wright and the two-minute offense scurried 60 yards downfield in 1:15 to set up a potential game-tying field goal. Andrew Lloyd's 48-yard attempt fell short.
"I was impressed," said Shenandoah running back Keone Kyle, who watched the Catholic game from the sidelines because he violated a team policy. "Danny's a first-year quarterback and he commanded the team all the way down the field.
"I think that was very impressive because we're a running team, and that right there displays how quick we can move the ball downfield."
BURSTING AT THE SEAMS: Cast to the sidelines against Catholic, Kyle is "planning on bringing a whole lot of punch" to this Saturday's 1 p.m. game at Bridgewater. Kyle rushed for 1,157 yards last season, the best single-season rushing performance in SU history. He will start at fullback Saturday, and will slip into the tailback position to relieve starter Kevin Roberts.
Kyle played in a similar hybrid roll his senior year at Thomas Edison High School.
Having played tailback, Kyle's advantage, he said, is that he understands what Roberts expects in terms of blocking.
"I know that if you block a certain way as a fullback ... it's gonna make it easier for the running back," Kyle said.
Good news for Kyle: Against Bridgewater last season -- a 21-13 loss -- Kyle rushed for 96 yards. Better news for Kyle: Former SU fullback Anthony Cordero gashed the Eagles with 38-yard trip to the end zone last year.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT: Barnes always makes a point of playing mistake-free football.
The Hornets' inability to limit their own mistakes cost them the game against Catholic -- Shenandoah lost three fumbles in the defeat, was booked for 47 penalty yards, and lost 50 rushing yards.
"I think it comes down to one thing," Barnes said of the Catholic game. "They took advantage of our mistakes, we didn't take advantage of theirs -- case closed."
SU's ability to limit its own mistakes will be especially vital to its success against Bridgewater -- in last year's game, Shenandoah gave up a 98-yard pass play for a touchdown in the first quarter, and allowed a 24-yard rushing touchdown off a fake field goal in the second quarter.
Barnes, as always, is banking on his defense to play well. And he should: SU's front seven seems to be getting along swimmingly, and the Hornets boast a stronger secondary than they did a year ago. Safeties Larry Gibbs and Sean Purcell are coming off stirring seasons, and first-year starting cornerback Phil Volz had three solo tackles, five total tackles, and broke up three passes against Catholic.
"We need to tackle better," said Gibbs of last week's defensive performance. "The effort was there, some of us just missed tackles.
"I think it was more of a mental thing. I think now that we're in game-shape we can capitalize on what we did last week."