By Brad Fauber
WINCHESTER -- Shenandoah University head football coach Scott Yoder still isn't ready to declare it a "controversy," but the Hornets' quarterback situation has taken yet another turn.
Just two weeks after Yoder stated that Shenandoah would shy away from the two-quarterback system that it had run in its first five games of the season and named freshman Justin Neff the full-time starter, Yoder has switched gears and said that junior Drew Ferguson will take the initial snaps for the Hornets in Saturday's game at Randolph-Macon College.
The move was driven by Ferguson's performance in last weekend's 36-35 upset of Hampden-Sydney, when the junior rallied the Hornets from a 19-0 deficit after entering the game late in the first quarter.
"It's kind of the same deal but it just seems like each week it's a different scenario. In a way, that's a really good thing because you've got two kids who can win a game for you," Yoder said of the quarterback situation on Wednesday. "Drew was the hot hand on Saturday and did a nice job. I think Drew is going to start against Randolph-Macon, because I think what he gives us and brings to the table, that balance is kind of what we need right now."
For the second straight game as the Hornets' true starter at quarterback, Neff struggled to move a Shenandoah offense that has battled inconsistency all season. Against Catholic two weeks ago, Neff completed 10 of 15 passes for just 48 yards. Last weekend, Neff went just 1-for-4 for 26 yards and an interception before being replaced by Ferguson on Shenandoah's fourth drive of the game. Neff's lone completion came on a fake punt attempt on that very drive.
Ferguson finished last Saturday's game having completed 12 of 23 passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound junior also rushed for 63 yards and a score on 14 carries.
Ferguson engineered several key drives for the Hornets, including the game-winning touchdown march that ended when Ferguson found Qlyl Middeljin for a 22-yard touchdown pass with 47 seconds remaining.
"I was just staying relaxed. I got in there and it was 19-0. I didn't really have anything to lose going into the game, so I just relaxed and ran the plays that I know how to run," Ferguson said. "As the score got closer and closer my nerves were gone and I think the whole team got excited."
Yoder said Ferguson's presence gave the Hornets a "shot in the arm" on Saturday, and he specifically noted Ferguson's willingness to lower his shoulder on opposing defenders during running plays, saying that "everybody was pretty fired up about that."
Yoder didn't rule out using Neff (71-for-116, 772 yards, five touchdowns, two interceptions this season) against Randolph-Macon this weekend, especially if Shenandoah needs to lean towards a more pass-heavy attack. But Yoder said Ferguson (53-for-104, 671 yards, seven touchdowns, five interceptions) will see most of the snaps early on to allow him to get into the flow of the game.
"They've done a good job in the system, and it might not be the most ideal situation, but it gives us the best chance to win and that's what we're going to do," Yoder said.
FINALLY OFF AND RUNNING: Much of Shenandoah's success last weekend against Hampden-Sydney can be directly linked to the emergence of the Hornets' rushing attack, an aspect of SU's offense that has been hit and miss (mostly miss) this season.
The Hornets rushed for 236 yards on 49 attempts (4.8 yards per rush) against the Tigers, the most Shenandoah has rushed for this season since gaining 298 yards on the ground against Ferrum in week 2.
Shenandoah was led by sophomore running back Andrew Smith, who finished with 152 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries. Smith set a new school record as well, finishing with 357 all-purpose yards after catching six passes for 95 yards and a touchdown and returning four kickoffs for 110 yards.
Yoder said the Hornets saw improvement along the offensive line, and Smith credited the running ability of Ferguson out of the read-option as a major component of Shenandoah's rushing success.
"With Drew coming in the game and running the read-option, you have to respect both the running back coming out and Drew, but you also have to respect his play-action ability that he can do," Smith said.
"It just makes the whole team's job a lot easier ... because you don't have to worry about eight, nine guys crashing into the box. They have to honor their respective zones or whatever they're supposed to protect. They can't just come flying down. It just made everybody's job a lot easier and it made everybody look a lot better."
A WORK IN PROGRESS: Shenandoah now faces the task of building off of last week's win, which is something that the Hornets (3-4, 2-2 ODAC) have struggled with this season.
Both of Shenandoah's previous wins this season were followed by blowout losses, a fact that several players accredited to a mix of a lack of focus, a poor mental approach and inconsistent execution.
Yoder said the coaching staff has taken it upon itself to ensure that the Hornets take away the proper lessons from last weekend's victory.
"I know that we've tried to do a better job coaching us after a win," Yoder said. "It starts with me and we need to take the right things away from Saturday's game. Not the 'oh I feel great and everything is going to be good now.' Not that. It's more of the 'look what we can do when we're mentally tough and we execute at a high level.' That's what our program needs to learn."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD