By Jeff Nations -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- After missing last week's season-opening road victory over Stevenson while recovering from back surgery, Shenandoah University head football coach Paul Barnes plans to be at Shentel Stadium tonight when the Hornets host Ferrum.
Exactly where Barnes will be, though, is anybody's guess.
"Everybody says I'm going to be in the press box, but nobody knows where I'm going to be," Barnes said at Wednesday's weekly news conference. "Even I don't know where I'm going to be."
It will simply be a relief to be there at all for Barnes, who watched on his computer monitor at home as Shenandoah (1-0) rallied three times to dispatch Stevenson.
Defensive coordinator Brock McCullough served as interim head coach, and offensive coordinator Brian Wolf made the decision to lift starting quarterback Phillip Gardner in favor of backup Shawn Lloyd late in the second quarter.
"Brian made that call, and it was a great call -- I thought it was the turning point," Barnes said.
Barnes credited his coaching staff with a seamless performance last week -- including a gutsy fake punt in the second quarter that resulted in a 41-yard pass play from punter Cory Gay to Byron Mitchell that set up the team's first touchdown.
Lloyd, a senior who sat out the 2011 season, sparked the Hornets after Gardner struggled with two interceptions. A backup to former SU standout signal caller Danny Wright in 2010, Lloyd completed just 5 of 12 passes but connected with Qiydaar Murphy on a 30-yard scoring strike early in the fourth quarter to give the Hornets some breathing room.
This week, Lloyd will make his first career start for Shenandoah. That doesn't mean Gardner is out of the picture, though. Lloyd is "slightly ahead" on the depth chart due to his knowledge of SU's offense.
"He understands it more because he's been in it longer," Barnes said. "He understands what we're looking for. I think Phil has come a long way, the fastest as far as adopting the offense of any quarterback we had. He just has to have what we always call 'grass time,' just get used to making all the calls and feeling comfortable."
For Lloyd, it will be a chance to play against his former team. Lloyd was a second-string quarterback at Ferrum in 2007, and even played some in the Panthers' win over Shenandoah that year. He decided to move closer to his Woodbridge home by transferring to Shenandoah after that season, and sat out a year to avoid the in-conference transfer rule.
The decision to sit out last season was a personal one, and although Lloyd did attend some SU games he mainly concentrated on "being a regular college student."
"Everything happens for a reason," Lloyd said. "This is my last semester in school -- I graduate in December. So just to have the opportunity to play a football game is just kind of like the icing on the cake for me."
There's plenty of icing at stake for the Hornets against Ferrum (0-1), which lost its opener by a 46-36 score last week to Emory & Henry. Erstwhile conference rivals before SU's move from the USA South to the ODAC this year, the two schools have a long football history. The Panthers hold a commanding 13-2 edge in that series, with the Hornets' only wins coming in 2003 and 2004. This could well be the last chance the Hornets have to draw a little closer in that series, and at the same time establish a bit of school history with a win.
"To us, this is a very big game because we really want to go 2-0," Hornets senior running back Carl Joseph said. "There's no team in school history here that's won their first two games. So that's one thing that's motivating us to get this win."
Last year, a freak snowstorm delayed, by nearly a day, an eventual 41-28 Ferrum victory over SU in Winchester. The Panthers ran their customary triple-option attack to great effect, as standout quarterback Marcus Mayo ran for 142 yards and three touchdowns in the win. Mayo is gone now, and so too is the triple option in favor of a new zone-read look. Barnes describes it as a "shotgun wishbone."
"Somewhere along the line, they're going to try to exploit your secondary [when] you're overreacting, either by throwing a long bomb -- trying to keep you honest -- or a reverse if you're overaggressive," Barnes said. "Typical Ferrum team, just a different way of doing it."
Quarterback Tim Reynolds led Ferrum's offense last week with a pair of touchdown passes and another running TD.
For the Hornets, Joseph notched his second career 100-yard rushing game with 178 yards on 29 carries with a touchdown. Freshman Andrew Smith added 74 rushing yards and a pair of TDs.
New offense or not, Ferrum is an opponent the Hornets are plenty familiar with facing on the football field.
"I see it as a conference game, or even as a playoff game," SU junior linebacker Josh Rogers said. "Just because it's Ferrum and because of my past two years -- I've been out there and played hard and tried to beat them, and we lost."
Notes: Former SU standout wide receiver Rico Wallace, waived by the Carolina Panthers last month, is back in Winchester and will work with the Hornets' wide receivers as he attempts to continue his professional career. ... Former Warren County star Marty Haley is a backup running back for Ferrum. Two former Winchester prep standouts -- Christopher McDaniel (DL, Handley) and DeAndre Johnson (DL, Millbrook) are also playing for the Panthers this season. ... SU linebacker Jajuan Johnson and wide receiver Eric Massado have come off team suspension and are eligible to play tonight.