By Jeff Nations
WINCHESTER -- Every time Shenandoah University's football team generated momentum on Saturday at Shentel Stadium, visiting Hampden-Sydney grabbed that momentum right back -- then doubled it.
The resulting 42-21 loss for Shenandoah (1-6, 0-4 Old Dominion Athletic Conference) probably looks worse than it was against the Tigers. The Hornets had one of their best offensive performances of the season, and even scored first for the first time this season.
But for every SU touchdown, Hampden-Sydney (5-2, 3-1) answered with two of its own to make certain there would be no upset Saturday.
"I think we executed better," Shenandoah coach Paul Barnes said. "We still turned the ball over -- we can't do that, but we had a fairly good offensive day. I think it can get a lot better, and it will get a lot better. And we need to strive and build upon that."
The Hornets got an encouraging performance from sophomore quarterback Corey Taylor, back after sitting out last week's loss to Catholic University with an injury. Making his third career collegiate start, Taylor again showed flashes of dual-threat ability by rushing for a team-high 68 yards and also passing for 168 yards.
Taylor's 20-yard touchdown run to cap a seven-play, 65-yard drive put the Hornets up 7-0 in the first quarter, but the Tigers promptly answered on their ensuing possession as Chris Shembo scored from three yards out with 13:40 left in the first half.
Hampden-Sydney forced a turnover on SU's next possession when Steven Fogleman forced a Taylor fumble at the Hornets' 32. Two plays later, Tigers quarterback Nash Nance connected with Evan King on a 16-yard touchdown pass.
The Hornets produced their own big defensive play early in the third quarter, when SU free safety Byron Mitchell came through with a spectacular interception on a Nance pass toward the sideline. Mitchell's pick in Hampden-Sydney territory set up an eight-play, 45-yard drive finished by Andrew Smith's 4-yard touchdown run. Taylor's 27-yard pass to David Bell was the big play, though, as the Hornets knotted the score at 14-all with 9:33 left in the third quarter.
"The defense has just got to continue to come up with turnovers," Mitchell said. "I feel like that's the only way we're going to be able to win games, the only way we're going to get it into the end zone. We have to create turnovers to build momentum for our offense, and the offense can build momentum for us."
The Tigers once more took it right back, as Nance led a no-huddle drive that covered 86 yards in 16 plays. Regis Craft capped it with a 3-yard touchdown run. Early in the drive, Nance converted with a first-down run on fourth-and-1 from his own 23.
"We pressed them," said Nash, a University of Tennessee transfer who completed 21 of 32 passes for 287 yards and a touchdown. "We were moving the chains and we were playing a hurry-up offense and when you do that, defensively it makes it tough."
Nance flashed his arm strength after Hampden-Sydney forced a punt, delivering a perfect 60-yard pass to Holton Walker down to the SU 8. Two plays later, King scored on a 2-yard touchdown run.
Paul Athey's 2-yard touchdown run helped the Hornets narrow the gap back to 28-21 with 11:43 to play, but another run-heavy drive featuring King (game-high 115 rushing yards) ended with King's 1-yard touchdown run.
The Tigers sealed it after Martin Owens ended Shenandoah's ensuing drive with an interception.
"They run a lot of zones, so you've just got to find the windows," said Taylor, who was 10 for 21 passing. "My two interceptions, I wish I could take them back."
King scored his fourth touchdown of the day with 1:24 to play on a 1-yard run.
"They kind of threw us a curveball," Tigers coach Marty Favret said. "They didn't blitz as much as we're used to seeing them do, so we had to be a little more patient running the ball and that's what we got to in the second half."
Shenandoah junior linebacker Josh Rogers said the Tigers' offensive line was the best run-blocking unit he's seen so far this season, and Hampden-Sydney's misdirection plays contributed to a slew of missed tackles.
Mitchell gave plenty of credit to King.
"He was a strong, athletic running back," Mitchell said. "He might not look like much, which is kind of the way I took it as, but he was actually a pretty good running back."
The Hornets did struggle in some aspects on offense, including the three costly turnovers. Shenandoah also converted on just 1 of 12 third-down plays, a miserable success rate somewhat mitigated by a 4 for 6 showing on fourth-down conversions.
But the 21-point outing was Shenandoah's second-best this season, and Taylor seems to be settling in as the starting quarterback after season-long instability at that position with three different starters so far.
"This is definitely a game we can build off," Taylor said. "We've got three games left, [the] offense believes now. They've seen what we did. We could've been doing it all year."
Contact sports editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137, or email@example.com