By Brad Fauber
WINCHESTER -- Shenandoah University's football team knew exactly what it was going to see from Gallaudet's triple-option offense when the two teams faced off in Saturday's season opener.
But as the Hornets found out, it's one thing to know what's coming and another thing entirely to stop the option, or at least slow it down. Shenandoah could do neither as it fell to Gallaudet, 31-20, spoiling the debut of new Hornets head coach Scott Yoder.
The visiting Bison rolled up 454 yards of offense, including 390 on the ground, and appeared to catch Shenandoah by surprise in the opening quarter as Gallaudet struck for two quick touchdown drives to put the Hornets in a 14-0 hole just seven minutes into the game.
"It's very hard to mimic in practice the speed that those offenses go," Yoder said. "I don't think it caught us off guard, because we knew that was going to be our first challenge. It was just disappointing to give up two drives like that. Credit to them, but it definitely was the speed. It took us a while to get into the game -- too long, defensively."
In an effort to get into an early rhythm in their new spread offense, the Hornets (0-1) elected to receive the opening kickoff and immediately found itself in Gallaudet territory when freshman quarterback Justin Neff connected with freshman Qlyl Middelijn on a 38-yard pass on the first play from scrimmage. But Shenandoah's drive stalled after failing to convert on fourth-down attempt from the Bison 31, and Gallaudet's offense was quick to respond with a 68-yard touchdown drive that needed just four plays.
The Bison broke runs of 29 and 12 yards on its first two plays from scrimmage on carries by Ryan Bonheyo and Braxton Baker, respectively, and sophomore quarterback Todd Bonheyo scored on a 31-yard scamper to put Gallaudet up 7-0 with 11:20 left in the first quarter.
Shenandoah lost possession on a fumble two plays later after hitting another big pass play to reach the Bison 31, and Gallaudet marched down the field for a 61-yard touchdown drive capped by Todd Bonheyo's one-yard plunge into the end zone.
Todd Bonheyo, last season's Eastern Collegiate Football Conference rookie of the year, finished the game with 68 yards rushing and three touchdowns while also throwing for 41 yards.
"We have a lot of experience on offense, so this year we're setting the tone on offense. We pretty much, every time we come out, expect to come out and rely on our run game and see what teams set up," Bison coach Chuck Goldstein said. "We have great leadership on offense, we have nine starters from last year, so we're kind of expecting that, to move the ball."
Shenandoah received a spark later in the first quarter on a fake punt as Neff -- also the team's starting punter -- found Sean Blackman for a 37-yard completion, and a personal foul on Gallaudet following the play gave the Hornets the ball at the Bison 13. Freshman running back Josh Wells scored from three yards out several plays later to cut Gallaudet's lead to 14-7 with 4:49 left in the opening quarter.
The Bison (1-0) regained a two-touchdown advantage midway through the second quarter when Ryan Bonheyo took a screen pass from backup quarterback Quentin Williams 23 yards for the score, but the Hornets answered back with more creative play-calling on its ensuing possession.
Shenandoah reached the Gallaudet 32 on a double pass from running back Andrew Smith to Middelijn (six catches, 147 yards) that netted 43 yards. Four plays later, the Hornets capitalized on a fake field goal as Drew Ferguson found tight end Miles Green for a 27-yard score with 1:22 left in the first half.
"We're always going to be aggressive, and if the opportunity presents itself we're going to try to take advantage of it," Yoder said. "We needed a spark at those times. We needed to change the game, the momentum. We needed to flip the field position. We're going to be aggressive when we can be."
Gallaudet took control in the second half as the Bison went 68 yards on 10 plays for a touchdown to open the third quarter, and a Chase Magsig 34-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter gave the Bison a 31-14 lead with 2:24 to play.
The Hornets' offense was stymied for much of the second half before Neff, who threw for 219 yards on 19 of 26 passing in his collegiate debut, found Middelijn for a 16-yard touchdown with 34 seconds to play.
Shenandoah's offense managed 346 yards, including just 53 on the ground. The Hornets were also 0-for-11 on third down, allowed three sacks and turned the ball over three times.
Smith, who finished with 53 yards rushing and 27 yards receiving, said the Hornets' offense needs to shoulder most of the blame for Saturday night's loss.
"The up-tempo kind of beat us a little bit. Going three-and-out that quickly and putting our defense back on the field when a team runs the ball a lot, we kind of screwed our defense over a little bit," Smith said. "As an offense I think we need to take responsibility in making sure that if we're going to be doing this up-tempo, we need to make sure that we're going to get first downs."
Shenandoah will travel to face former USA South rival Ferrum next Saturday in a 1 p.m. contest.
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org