By Brad Fauber
WINCHESTER -- Shenandoah University isn't playing for a spot in the postseason, nor are the Hornets fighting for an Old Dominion Athletic Conference championship. But there is still plenty to work for in this afternoon's season finale against Washington and Lee.
Shenandoah will be celebrating its Senior Day at Shentel Stadium today, and the Hornets are searching for positives to take into the offseason. Add that to the fact that SU seemed to have developed a bitter rivalry with the Generals last season, and things should get pretty intense when the two teams kick off at 1 p.m.
"Nothing would be better than going out and beating Washington and Lee," Hornets senior linebacker Sean Blackman said Wednesday. "We know how intensified the games get when we go against them. Even though our records don't show that we're going to be having any effect on the ODAC championship, the game will be played as if we have a chance. That's how high the intensity of the game will be."
Shenandoah (3-6, 2-4 ODAC) comes into this afternoon's contest having lost its last two games, including a disappointing 37-20 defeat at the hands of Emory and Henry last Saturday.
Blackman said practice this week had been somewhat looser that usual as the Hornets tried to enjoy their final week of preparation, but Shenandoah was still focused on correcting last week's mistakes and figuring out a way to put everything together against Washington and Lee (5-4, 3-3).
"I've never felt like you should ever forget about when you get beat. You need to move on, but I think you've got to learn the lessons ...," Hornets head coach Scott Yoder said. "Every week is a new week and we've got a great challenge with W&L. And it's Senior Day, so we've got to send the seniors out the right way, and I think that's the way the guys are focused. Certainly it's tough to see the season come to an end, but we've got the opportunity to beat the defending champions of the league and we're going to have to play well to do it."
The Hornets are confident that they will be able to slow down Washington and Lee's triple-option attack that is averaging an ODAC-best 352.1 rushing yards per game this season.
Last year, Shenandoah held the Generals to 235 yards rushing -- the third lowest total that season for Washington and Lee -- in a 42-23 loss. Yoder, who served as the defensive coordinator for Hobart College last season, also had his own success against the Generals in the first round of the Division III playoffs. Hobart held Washington and Lee to just 188 yards rushing in a 38-20 win.
"You put the personnel that we had last year together with the mindset of coach Yoder, I really think this is going to be a better game for Shenandoah," said Hornets senior linebacker Byron Mitchell, who leads the team with 77 tackles this season.
Freshman running back Marshall Hollerith leads the Generals' offense this season with 899 yards and 11 touchdowns on 175 carries, while senior quarterback Nick Lombardo has 866 yards and five scores on the ground.
Senior slot back Luke Terna is also a dangerous weapon in the backfield for Washington and Lee, as he has racked up 696 yards and six touchdowns on 100 carries.
Shenandoah will be a little shorthanded on defense, as inside linebackers Jason Hager (concussion) and Michael Wroble (suspension) are not expected to play today.
"Any missed assignment can lead to a touchdown. That's how potent their offense is and how well they run it," Blackman said. "You have to know what you have to do when you see certain formations and when you see certain motions."
Offensively, the Hornets hope to put everything together after missed opportunities doomed Shenandoah the last two weeks.
The Hornets committed three second-half turnovers in last Saturday's loss, and Shenandoah will have to take better care of the football if it hopes to find success against a Generals defense that is third in the conference in scoring (21.3 points per game) and fourth in total defense (344.6 yards per game).
Yoder said the Hornets will continue to use both Drew Ferguson and Justin Neff at quarterback today, though Yoder was unsure on Wednesday who would start.
No matter who is taking the snaps for Shenandoah, the Hornets will need consistent production if they hope to end the season with a victory.
"It's kind of a must-win," said sophomore running back Andrew Smith, who is second in the ODAC in all-purpose yards (1,538/170.9 yards per game). "You don't want to end on a losing streak and you want to go out with a win so that it gives you a little bit of momentum going into the offseason."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD