Hornets finding offensive rhythm

By Brad Fauber

WINCHESTER — Shenandoah University snapped its 10-game losing streak and picked up its first win under head coach Scott Yoder in last weekend’s 43-29 win at Ferrum, a game in which the Hornets made some big plays in all major facets of the game.

One area in which Shenandoah saw a major improvement was on the offensive side of the ball. The Hornets’ up-tempo spread offense under first-year offensive coordinator Stan Hodgins churned out 472 total yards last weekend against the Panthers, but the most impressive offensive stat was 90 — the number of plays that Shenandoah ran.

That number was the second-highest total in program history, topped only by a 94-play performance against Bridgewater in 2004.

“I always felt strongly that we would see really good improvement from week one to week two, and I think we certainly did see that,” Yoder said on Wednesday. “The guys kind of got some kinks out in Week 1 [against Gallaudet] and learned a lot from that.

“We were snapping the ball with high-teens, low-20s on the clock [against Ferrum] and had them really — at the least they were running their base defense because they could not do anything else. That’s what tempo does for you and I think we used that to our advantage.”

The Hornets’ offense, which struggled at times to generate sustained drives in a season-opening loss to Gallaudet two weeks ago, proved effective against Ferrum under the leadership of junior quarterback Drew Ferguson.

Ferguson, who has been sharing time under center this season with freshman Justin Neff, was 17-for-29 passing for 152 yards and two touchdowns. Ferguson’s solid day came one week after he attempted just five passes against Gallaudet.

“I was able to complete some passes at critical times, and I was able to run the ball a little bit, which was good,” Ferguson said. “I just stayed relaxed and ran the offense that I know how to run.”

The Hornets’ offense backed a resilient effort from Shenandoah’s defense, which came up with a huge stop on a Ferrum fourth-and-goal attempt from the 1-yard line to preserve the Hornets’ lead in the fourth quarter.

Shenandoah’s offense responded to the stop with a 13-play, 99-yard drive that ended in a touchdown to put the Hornets up by two scores with 1:18 to play in the game.

“It was as good of a team win as you can have, and I hope our guys took a lot away from that confidence-wise, and also knowing that we can play better,” Yoder said.

OFF AND RUNNING: A major piece to Shenandoah’s offensive success on Saturday was the Hornets’ ground attack.

Shenandoah managed 297 yards rushing in the win over Ferrum, a vast improvement over the 57 yards that the Hornets mustered against Gallaudet in Week 1. The Hornets’ ability to move the ball on the ground was on full display on Shenandoah’s final drive, as the Hornets used 13 running plays to cover the 99 yards to the end zone.

“Offensively, we just started to get some confidence,” Yoder said. “We were able to run the football and … because we were able to have such an explosive second quarter, it wasn’t like Week 1 where we almost had to be all the time pass. To stay balanced was key for us offensively and I think that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I think we can play a lot better, and we’re going to need to because we’ve got some big challenges coming up.”

Sophomore running back Andrew Smith led Shenandoah’s ground attack, as he finished the day with 185 yards on 25 carries and two total touchdowns. Fellow sophomore Josh Wells added 58 yards rushing and two scores, and Ferguson even got into the action, running the ball 11 times for 49 yards and a touchdown.

EXTRA SPECIAL: Shenandoah has made some key plays on special teams so far this season, but perhaps none have been bigger than senior Byron Mitchell’s block on a Ferrum punt attempt late in the first half of Saturday’s contest.

The Hornets trailed 21-7 late in the second quarter as Ferrum lined up to punt the ball from its own 10-yard line, and Mitchell was able to burst through the Panthers’ punt protection and get his hand on the football as it came off the foot of punter Wesley Franklin.

“It was probably the biggest play of my career,” Mitchell said. “I almost blocked their first punt [of the game], and I knew when I got down there and it was back in the end zone, I knew the guy wasn’t going to block me again. Instead of diving for it, I tried to run through the punter a little bit. I knew as soon as I broke the line … it was going to be blocked.”

The Hornets were unable to recover the football in the end zone as it rolled out of bounds for a safety, but the play gave Shenandoah a much-needed boost. Shenandoah scored two touchdowns over the final three minutes of the first half to take a 22-21 lead into halftime.

“It changed the game on Saturday,” Yoder said of the blocked punt. “I don’t think that you can say it won the game because the offense was able to score a lot of points and the defense got some key stops, but that single play changed the whole game.”

Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or bfauber@nvdaily.com. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD