By Brad Fauber
WINCHESTER -- All week long, members of Shenandoah University's football team preached the importance of getting a win in Saturday's season finale against Old Dominion Athletic Conference rival Washington and Lee.
Driven by the desire to end the season on a positive note, and to send the seniors off with a victory on Senior Day at Shentel Stadium, the Hornets simply couldn't be denied a victory in their final game of the year.
Shenandoah's defense came up with a pair of huge defensive stops late in the game -- including a blocked field goal in the final minute of the fourth quarter to force overtime -- and the Hornets capped off a see-saw 2013 season with a thrilling 21-14 overtime victory.
"To let the seniors go out like that, it's amazing," said Hornets junior receiver David Bell, who caught the game-winning 22-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Drew Ferguson in the first overtime.
"I'm proud of this team. We never let up. We had two or three defensive stands, two missed field goals from them because our defense never gave up. And our offense, we kept on fighting. This was a great win for us."
Things almost didn't work out so well for Shenandoah (4-6, 3-4 ODAC) on Saturday.
Following a failed fake punt attempt by Shenandoah at its own 34, Washington and Lee (5-5, 3-4) took over with an excellent chance to break a 14-all tie with 3:38 left to play in the fourth quarter.
The Generals -- utilizing their triple-option offense -- steadily marched downfield before being set up with first-and-goal from the 9. Shenandoah considered allowing the Generals to score in order to conserve time for its own offense, but that strategy quickly changed after a pair of stops inside the 1 left Washington and Lee with a fourth-down decision.
The Generals opted to take a delay of game penalty and attempt a 23-yard field goal with just over a minute remaining, but Shenandoah sophomore cornerback Bayvon Young sprang untouched off the left side of the line and blocked the attempt to keep the tie intact and force overtime.
"This game I knew I hadn't had a play the whole game, they weren't throwing the ball. I said 'I know my play was going to come.' And then we got a chance for that field goal and I knew that kick was blocked," Young said.
"As soon as the ball moved, as soon as he twitched I was out the gate. I put my arms out and the ball hit my arm."
Washington and Lee won the overtime toss and elected to go on defense first, and Shenandoah was in the end zone two plays later.
On second-and-7 from the Generals' 22, Ferguson (8-for-18, 95 yards, one touchdown) found Bell for the go-ahead score. Bell was able to create separation from Generals cornerback Will Dyson on the play using a double move, and Ferguson delivered the ball right on time to put Shenandoah up 21-14.
"The corner actually tried to cheat it because usually it's just a little six-yard hitch route," Bell said. "The corner looked like he wanted to cheat it so I just read it how he played it and turned it into a 22-yard fade. Drew threw it perfectly in the right place."
Shenandoah sealed the victory two plays later when Hornets senior Buddy Findley stripped the ball from Generals freshman quarterback Charlie Nelson as he reeled off an 11-yard run inside the Hornets' 15. The Hornets came out of the pile with the football, sending Shenandoah's sideline streaking onto the field in celebration.
"When I saw the quarterback running, I think Byron [Mitchell] had his legs and I was just like 'man, I've got to go for the ball. At this point, tackles, stats, it doesn't really matter. Let's just get off the field,'" said Findley, who finished with 16 tackles. "So I stripped the ball out and I just laid on the ground like 'I hope someone recovered it.' Once I got up, I see everybody rushing the field and I was like 'thank God.'"
Findley's game-clinching defensive play capped an inspired effort from the Hornets' defense, which held Washington and Lee to 300 yards -- including 294 rushing -- on 74 plays. The Generals came into the game averaging an ODAC-best 352.1 rushing yards per game.
Generals freshman Marshall Hollerith finished the game with 123 yards and two touchdowns on 34 carries, while Nelson -- who was filling in for injured starter Nick Lombardo (concussion) -- had 134 yards on 20 carries.
Washington and Lee's best drive of the game came on its opening possession, when the Generals marched 61 yards on 10 plays to take a 7-0 lead.
"The first drive they just kind of did what they do. We couldn't slow them down," Hornets head coach Scott Yoder said. "We buckled down after that. I thought we played a really good first half. Honestly I thought we could've been up two scores and it just didn't work out that way."
Shenandoah tied the game on its first possession when freshman Cedrick Delaney turned a screen pass from Justin Neff into a 75-yard touchdown, but the Hornets missed a pair of field goals (37, 28 yards) in the first half that kept the game tied at 7-7 going into halftime.
Washington and Lee scored midway through the third quarter on a 1-yard run by Hollerith to take a 14-7 lead, but Shenandoah responded with a 13-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard plunge by Andrew Smith (22 carries, 66 yards).
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org