By Jeremy Stafford
WINCHESTER -- After 60 minutes of play, the ferocity that once was Averett's had become Shenandoah's.
The offensive potency that once was Averett's had become Shenandoah's.
The defensive acuteness, too.
And after 60 minutes of play, the game also became Shenandoah's, a 24-14 Hornets' win Saturday at Shentel Stadium, giving SU (3-5, 3-2 USA South) the most conference victories it's had since 2004.
So much for Averett's top-ranked scoring defense (13.86 points): Shenandoah scored in every quarter, including touchdowns in all but the first quarter.
And so much for the Cougars' +1 turnover margin and top-ranked rush defense (120.57 yards): Averett quarterback Cody Ladutko threw two interceptions, and Shenandoah tailback Keone Kyle gashed the Cougars' defense for 146 rushing yards.
Perhaps it's because Averett, so amped, so intense to start the game, wore itself out after two brilliant drives.
Or maybe Shenandoah really is one of the better teams in the USA South.
Or maybe SU kicker Andrew Lloyd's record-setting 48-yard field goal in the first quarter gave the Hornets just enough confidence to play with the efficiency they've talked of playing with all season.
"After we got those three points we knew we could do it," Kyle said. "We knew we could do it all along, we just came out a little flat-footed."
Averett (5-3, 3-2 USA South) scored on its first two drives of the night: first a five-play 79-yard drive, then a five-play 59-yard drive.
And the Shenandoah offense, unable to match Averett's precision, stumbled. The Hornets' first drive lasted four plays and went for 11 yards; its second drive lasted three plays and went for no yards.
"[Defensive line] coach [Kalvin] Oliver told us that this was the best offensive line we're going to face in the conference, and they definitely looked like it in the first two drives," Shenandoah defensive lineman Nick Erdman said. "But once we calmed down and realized what we needed to do as a defensive line, and as our linebackers continued to play well, we really took it over."
Which is why those first two drives marked the extent of the damage to Shenandoah's ego. No way were the Hornets going to give up 56 points, as they had to Ferrum a week ago. And no way were they going to lower their heads and wallow in the misery of yet another loss gone wildly out of hand in the game's early goings.
The Shenandoah defense befuddled Averett on its third possession, and the SU offense subsequently marched to the Cougars 32 and saw Lloyd boot his record-breaking kick.
And that's all Shenandoah really needed to know: that Averett could be stopped, and that they themselves could score.
"That was huge, actually, even though it was 14-3," Shenandoah quarterback Danny Wright said. "Coming out of there with a field goal was better than coming out of there with nothing, and it was a long kick and that pumps everyone up, too.
"Andrew nailed it and it was very clutch for us."
On Shenandoah's next possession, after spending the entire first quarter setting up Averett with slant routes, SU wideout Rico Wallace beat his defender on a slant-and-go for a 58-yard touchdown pass from Wright.
"It just shows that, if we work together, it doesn't matter what the score is," Wallace said.
Even when the Averett offense recomposed itself and found that spark that had it flaring in the first quarter, the Shenandoah defense came through. The Cougars, behind tailback James Wilson, danced to the Hornets 23, but Ladutko rifled a pass into the nook of SU linebacker Corey Giffing's right elbow, ensuring only a 14-10 Averett lead at halftime.
A touchdown run from Wright in the third quarter, and a dazzling display of willpower from Wallace in the fourth quarter, completed Shenandoah's 24-point binge.
On that fourth-quarter score, Wright hit Wallace on a slant from the Averett 15, but the ball caromed into the air. Wallace caught the ball around the 5-yard line, then pounded into the end zone.
"That's just Rico," Wright said. "His concentration and the will that he has to catch and to score every play, it's amazing, and that's what makes him as good as he is."
Wallace ended the night with a game-high 104 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Wright tossed for 163 yards and two scores, and the Shenandoah defense had three sacks and seven tackles for a loss.
And the Shenandoah special teams, which until last week's debacle had been a strength for the Hornets, were nearly flawless.
Wide receiver and return specialist Derrick Lee had 92 all-purpose yards, and punter Cory Gay forced Averett into enough fair catches that the Cougars' effective return game was held to only one actual punt return.
"It was a very good win, I think it was one of the finest wins that we have had here -- [Averett was] leading the conference," Shenandoah coach Paul Barnes said. "That just proves that we're going in the right direction, we're doing things the right way.
"You don't win a game like that just because of fate, we won it because we were doing it the right way."