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Big plays have doomed Hornets

By Jeff Nations

WINCHESTER -- It's a good bet that Greg Cordivari's personal highlight package will likely include significant footage from last Saturday's Old Dominion Athletic Conference football matchup against Shenandoah.

Little wonder, considering the Catholic quarterback helped produce a big-play bonanza for the Cardinals in the 34-7 victory by completing four passes -- two for touchdowns -- which covered at least 25 yards.

Cordivari finished with 277 passing yards -- take away those four long completions for a combined 128 and his yardage total drops to 149.

"It wasn't like they were driving down the field on us with passing, it wasn't like they were just picking our secondary apart," Shenandoah junior cornerback Sean Blackman said. "It was just pretty much every quarter, they had a big play on us. And we've got to cut down on the big plays. If we cut down on those, they lose momentum and have to go back to running which hasn't really been a factor throughout the season. We want to be able to just stop the big plays."

That's been the problem for Shenandoah (1-5, 0-3 ODAC). In every game except the loss to Christopher Newport this season, the Hornets have given up touchdowns on plays of 25 yards or more. In contrast, Shenandoah's has generated only 12 plays of 25 yards or more, with three of those coming on trick plays from the special teams unit.

Ten of those 17 big plays against the Hornets have either directly produced points or eventually led to them. To the chagrin of Blackman and the rest of Shenandoah's secondary, 12 of those long gainers have come via the pass.

"It sucks because we rarely make those mistakes, but the times that we do teams somehow find a way to take advantage of it," Blackman said. "Sometimes if you're out of place it may not affect it or you may get away with it, but for some odd reason this whole season the few mistakes we make the offense just happens to run a play that takes advantage of it. That's been something that's occurring in every game."

Despite the occasional lapse, the Hornets' defense still ranks among the best in the ODAC in total defense (second, allowing 313.5 yards per game).

Still, those big plays have added up to points the Hornets can ill afford to surrender. Although the long passes reflect negatively on the secondary, a sometimes spotty pass rush has also factored by giving opposing quarterbacks too much time to find targets.

"Pressure kills big plays like that," Hornets senior linebacker John Ludden said.

REVOLVING DOOR: Much of Shenandoah's offensive woes can be attributed to an alarming lack of stability at quarterback this season. Three different players -- Phillip Gardner, Shawn Lloyd and Corey Taylor -- have started games at quarterback for Shenandoah this season, with Lloyd earning the most starts including last week's game against Catholic.

Taylor, a sophomore who missed the first three games due to a suspension for an unspecified violation of team rules, looked to have locked down the starting assignment with a solid debut effort against Bridgewater on Sept. 22. He started the following week at home against Guilford, but injured his knee in that game and sat out last week. Gardner, who started the opener, has also missed significant time due to injury.

Shenandoah coach Paul Barnes said both are practicing this week, and Taylor is likely to resume the starting role against Hampden-Sydney on Saturday.

"Just putting the same quarterback out there every week is very important, and we've got to do that," Barnes said.

All the shuffling behind center has adversely affected the Hornets, who rank dead last in the ODAC in total offense with 246.7 yards per game. The gulf is particularly wide -- Guilford, which ranks just one spot above Shenandoah, averages 342.7 yards per game. Washington and Lee, the dominant rushing team in the ODAC, tops the total offense list at 451.8 yards per game.

Finding some stability at quarterback would help, although there is some benefit in getting three different quarterbacks some game experience.

"Just from the quarterback's cadence, that's the only thing that's difficult to me," senior fullback P.J. Athey said. "Some of the cadences are a little faster than others, some are slower. But they all bring different things to the table, which I kind of like."

NEXT MAN UP: Standout junior linebacker Josh Rogers is doubtful for Saturday's home game against Hampden-Sydney after suffering an elbow injury against Catholic, and fellow linebacker John Ludden was questionable heading into Wednesday's practice. Barnes said Ludden was slated to practice in full pads on Wednesday and was optimistic the senior would be available for Saturday's game against the Tigers.

Losing Rogers, who ranks second on the team with 55 tackles, is a blow for Shenandoah's defense. Rogers, like Ludden a middle linebacker, leads the Hornets with nine tackles for loss.

Freshman Thomas Cirillo, who saw his first game action last week against Catholic, is listed as Rogers' backup on the Hornets' depth chart.

Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137, or jnations@nvdaily.com

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