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By Jeremy Stafford - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- And so the rivalry between Shenandoah and Bridgewater continues. Deepens. Grows more complicated even though it's so simple to decipher.
The rivalry's latest installment played out no differently than the previous two, with the Hornets proving they can keep up with the Eagles for the better part of four quarters, then watching the game's final few minutes fall Bridgewater's way.
In Saturday's 28-23 loss, Shenandoah amassed 397 total yards to Bridgewater's 355 yards. Hornets quarterback Daniel Wright threw for 293 yards and a touchdown, and rushed for two touchdowns; and Eagles quarterback Carlos Gonzalez threw for only 97 yards.
And for a while, Shenandoah seemed to have Bridgewater tailback Darrin McKenzie under wraps.
Aside from an 8-yard run to start the game, McKenzie didn't have a run over five yards for most of the first half.
And then, on a second-down play at the Shenandoah 46, with just over 4:00 left in the second quarter, McKenzie broke off a 29-yard run to the SU 17. Then he ripped off a 6-yard run. His ensuing 11-yard run put him in the end zone.
McKenzie's night ended with 28 rushes, 186 yards and three touchdowns. Of the 64 yards he rushed for in the first half, more than half were gained on his final three attempts.
For him, there's no better way to conclude a non-conference rivalry.
"We look at them as our little brothers," McKenzie said of Shenandoah. "You know how your little brother always wants to beat you at something, always wants to be better than you -- that's how we feel about this rivalry.
"We're the big brother, and they're the little brother, and we can never let them win."
The next time the teams meet, in the fall of 2012, it will be an Old Dominion Athletic Conference game.
But as previously mentioned, the game did slip from Shenandoah's grasp in the last couple minutes. With 2:17 left in the game, Shenandoah facing a fourth-and-3 on its own 39, Hornets wideout Rico Wallace took off on a slant-corner route, got caught up with a couple Eagles defensive backs, and Wright's lob sailed far overhead.
"I think he just got tangled up, and it was almost an uncatchable ball as well," Wright explained. "I probably should have went to another receiver."
The play came only minutes following Wright's touchdown pass to Qiydaar Murphy, capping a four-play, 38-yard scoring drive that seemed only too easy to put together.
But the ease with which Shenandoah scored on a couple possessions does little to ease Murphy's total discomfort with the loss.
There was still so much room for improvement, Murphy said.
"Even if we rush for, let's say 150 [yards], we can always rush for 151," Murphy said. "Any amount of [extra] yards is good for our running game, and our passing game, too. You can always be better no matter how many yards you have, because you can always have one more than you finished with during the game."
With the Bridgewater defensive line rendering SU tailback Brad Martz ineffective -- he rushed 14 times for 22 yards -- and later rendering him injured -- he left the game with shoulder pain -- Shenandoah speedster Carl Joseph proved that craftiness is a powerful asset. He gained 96 yards on only nine rushes. And though he fumbled on the Bridgewater 2-yard line midway through the fourth quarter, he brought life to an offense that for a time seemed one-dimensional.
And really, turnovers did Shenandoah in. Bridgewater scored its first touchdown on an interception return in the second quarter, and Shenandoah lost three of its four fumbles.
On the other hand, Shenandoah's defense couldn't produce the turnovers it was so often primed to produce. The Hornets recovered only one of the Eagles' three fumbles, and Shenandoah defenders twice missed out on interception opportunities.
"It's frustrating because we know we're getting to the right spot, and we're ready to make the play," Hornets defensive lineman Nick Erdman said. "For whatever reason, we're just not making that play."