By Jeremy Stafford
WINCHESTER -- Shenandoah quarterback Daniel Wright watched Methodist placekicker Tyler Mosko line up for a 29-yard field goal with 24 seconds left in Saturday night's homecoming game on Sprint Field at Shentel Stadium.
Wright had to watch to see how the game would play out. The crowd's reaction, he said, is too difficult to interpret -- and he needed to be sure the Hornets weren't heading to overtime.
But overtime was certainly a possibility. Remember: Mosko had nailed a 42-yarder a year ago to beat Shenandoah in overtime.
For Mosko, a junior, this field goal was a chip shot. A gimme. He put cleat to ball and sent the leather ellipse into the Winchester night. Shentel Stadium was silent. A Shenandoah coach sprinted onto the turf, his arms heaved to the soundless sky.
The kick completed its trajectory, the referees waved the kick no good -- wide left -- and the silence at Shentel Stadium was replaced by a thundering roar, and a puddle of midnight blue leaked onto the field to celebrate SU's 21-18 win.
Last season, the Shenandoah Hornets (2-4, 2-1 USA South) didn't win these games. Now they've won two in a row, giving them a winning record in the conference and putting them in a five-way tie for first place in the conference.
Granted, there are only eight teams in the conference, but Shenandoah will gladly accept its top spot.
After losing nine games last season, often by a mere three-point margin, Shenandoah has finally claimed its first two-game win streak since 2004.
"It just seems like things are starting to go our direction this year," Wright said, "and it feels good to be on the other side, for sure."
Here's what went right for Shenandoah on Saturday: The Hornets scored on their opening possession, junior linebacker Trey Cregan returned a Methodist fumble 76 yards for a touchdown -- Shenandoah's first defensive touchdown since 2007 -- and the Hornet defense forced Mosko's field goal attempt after the Monarchs had a first-and-10 from the SU 11.
A year ago it would have been Methodist scoring on a fumble recovery, or it would have been Methodist scoring a game-winning touchdown from 11 yards out. At the very least, Methodist would have forced the overtime.
"A year ago it would have been a little bit different," SU defensive lineman Nick Erdman said. "It would have been a little bit of struggle, they would have moved the ball a little bit closer, given us a little more of a headache."
Instead, in the span of three downs, the Hornet defense pushed the Monarchs back to the SU 12.
In fact, Shenandoah's defense made a spectacular habit of setting up shop in Methodist's backfield. Nine Hornets had at least an assist on a tackle for a loss, Shenandoah had 12 total tackles for a loss, and linebacker Corey Giffing had a game-high three tackles for a loss.
Which is all the more impressive considering Shenandoah is without All-USA South linebacker John Redmond, who suffered a knee injury in a loss to Christopher Newport two weeks ago.
"We miss John, definitely," Cregan said. "He was a big factor on the defense, but as [defensive coordinator] coach Brock [McCullough] was saying, we can't stop. We can't stop. We keep fighting."
Replacing Redmond at middle linebacker has been surprisingly simple. Freshman Joshua Rogers started Saturday, and was spelled by Cregan and safety Sean Purcell. The three combined for four tackles for a loss.
Shenandoah's defensive effort fortified what was a physical but occasionally stagnant night for the offense.
Tailback Keone Kyle rushed for 115 yards at 5.2 yards a clip -- the second time this season SU has had a 100-yard rusher. Wright threw for only 51 yards, but tossed a touchdown to wideout Rico Wallace and had a 59-yard rush on an option play to set up the game's opening touchdown.
"This year I think we started off bad, but now everyone is starting to see we really want it," said Kyle, who demonstrated his excitement for the win streak more visibly than any other Hornet. "It feels good to win -- we just want to keep it going."
James Wood graduate Brock Lockhart rushed for nine yards and saw his most involved night of the season in place of tailback Kevin Roberts, who because of health issues is out indefinitely.
SU's defensive effort also overshadowed what was an otherwise splendid night for Methodist quarterback Travis Murphy, who rushed for 75 yards, passed for 240 yards, and was responsible for two Monarch touchdowns and a two-point conversion. Methodist wideout Anthony Autry had six receptions for 91 yards before he was injured with 2:43 remaining in the second quarter.
"They're athletic and that gave us a concern," SU coach Paul Barnes said of Methodist's offense. "But overall I thought not giving up a lot of long passes, not allowing the big plays, explosive plays -- I was happy."
Shenandoah travels to Ferrum on Saturday for a 1 p.m. game.