Shenandoah looks for second straight victory
By Brad Fauber
WINCHESTER — Shenandoah University is coming off arguably the biggest upset in school history in last week’s win over Hampden-Sydney, but if the Hornets have learned anything this season, it’s that a win means little if you can’t continue to build off that momentum from one week to the next.
The Hornets have struggled with success this season, as each of Shenandoah’s first two wins was followed by disappointing blowout losses. So you can’t blame the Hornets for choosing to put last weekend’s win behind them as they prepared for today’s 1 p.m. road contest against Randolph-Macon College.
“We’re kind of looking past last week and I think we’re moving on to this week,” Hornets junior quarterback Drew Ferguson said on Wednesday. “I think it was a big win for us … it shows the team that we can definitely compete with the ODAC and with a team that I think is one of the best in the nation.
“In order for us to do well, we’ve just got to look past that … focus on a new opponent. I think that’s something that we’re doing a lot this week.”
Just because Shenandoah has decided to push last Saturday’s win aside doesn’t mean the Hornets are completely ignoring it. There was plenty good things to learn and build from, it’s just a matter of the Hornets drawing the right lessons from it.
Shenandoah head coach Scott Yoder said that has been the focus of this week’s practice, and the Hornets hope that will help them win back-to-back games in a season for the first time since 2011.
“I also told the guys our challenge now is we don’t want to be the team that had three or four really good Saturdays, and the other ones we didn’t. That’s not what good football programs are about,” Yoder said.
The Hornets (3-4, 2-2 ODAC) are coming off one of their best offensive performances of the season behind a record-setting performance by sophomore running back Andrew Smith, who finished the game with 375 all-purpose yards.
Shenandoah finished the game with 427 yards of total offense, including 236 yards rushing. Smith finished with 152 yards rushing and two touchdowns, as well as 95 yards receiving and another score.
The Hornets’ success on the ground was a result of the effectiveness of Shenandoah’s read-option. Ferguson rushed for 63 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries and also completed 12 of 23 passes for 165 yards and two scores.
Shenandoah will look to continue that success today against a Yellow Jackets defense that is second in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference in rush defense (123.4 yards per game).
“They’re disciplined, very aggressive. Their linebackers are very active and very aggressive, so we’ll see. It will be another interesting game,” said Smith, who has 668 yards and seven touchdowns on 139 carries this season. “Hopefully we come out a little bit faster than we did at Hampden-Sydney, but … it’s going to be another fourth-quarter game, so finishing the game will be important.”
On defense, Shenandoah will see a completely different style from Randolph-Macon’s offense than what it saw a week ago. The Yellow Jackets rely heavily on the run, and the Hornets’ main focus will be to slow down Randolph-Macon running back Will McGhee.
The Yellow Jackets (5-2, 3-1) — who had their five-game winning streak snapped with a 28-21 loss to Guilford last week — are averaging 231.9 rushing yards per game this season, good for second in the conference.
“It really is the same big challenge, just in a completely different animal,” Yoder said, comparing R-MC’s style to that of the pass-heavy attack from Hampden-Sydney. “This is going to be a run-first team with a really explosive tailback. He’s excellent. Even in games where they ‘struggle,’ he gets 250 yards.”
McGhee, a 5-foot-10, 185-pound senior, has rushed for an ODAC-best 1,293 yards and 12 touchdowns on 207 carries this season. He is averaging nearly 30 carries and 185 yards per game.
“They’re going to give him the ball. I don’t think you look at it and say ‘we’ve got to limit him to 100 yards.’ I just don’t think that’s a goal that’s going to help you at all,” Yoder said. “I think you need to take something away, force them to throw the football a little bit and make sure he doesn’t have huge runs to beat you.”
The Hornets are confident that they have they will finally be able to put together back-to-back solid games. Yoder said some of the players are beginning to realize that season is drawing to a close, which has helped them remain focused on performing well in Shenandoah’s last three games.
“Win, lose, draw, whatever happens, our seniors are starting to see what the end looks like,” Yoder said. “And the other guys realize that we only have eight or nine practices left in the season. That sense of urgency, I think, has gotten us focused and I know that we’re going to play well.”
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD