By Brad Fauber
WINCHESTER -- Shenandoah University's well-chronicled struggles with inconsistency continued in Saturday's Old Dominion Athletic Conference game against visiting Emory and Henry.
The Hornets' defense failed to contain Emory and Henry in the first half, and Shenandoah's offense turned the ball over three times in the second half on its way to a 37-20 loss to the Wasps.
Shenandoah's defense limited the Wasps to just 144 yards of offense over the final two quarters after allowing 306 yards in the first half, but Shenandoah's offense sputtered over the final two quarters while starting quarterback Drew Ferguson threw three second-half interceptions.
"We had to be aggressive, and defensively we dug ourselves in a huge hole in the first half by just not executing our job. We struggled to overcome that," Hornets head coach Scott Yoder said. "We just told the offense, it was 28-14 at halftime ... we knew we had to be aggressive. Some of that is what happened to Drew. We don't win that game by being conservative. I don't fault him. I've got to look at the film. But we had to be aggressive."
As has been the case for much of the season, missed opportunities plagued the Hornets' offense on Saturday. Two of Shenandoah's turnovers in the second half came in Emory and Henry territory, and the Hornets (3-6, 2-4 ODAC) were stopped on four straight plays inside Emory and Henry's 5-yard line right before halftime that kept the Wasps' two-touchdown lead intact going into the break.
Following an Emory and Henry (5-4, 2-4) touchdown on a 35-yard pass from Kyle Boden to Lucas Kirby that gave the Wasps a 28-14 lead with 5:15 remaining in the second quarter, Hornets freshman Delaun Richardson returned the ensuing kickoff 64 yards to the Wasps' 32.
Three straight rushes by sophomore Andrew Smith helped set up Shenandoah with first-and-goal from the 3-yard line later in the drive, but the Hornets were unable to punch it in. Two straight rushes by Smith were stuffed at the line of scrimmage, and Ferguson overthrew an open Brandon Adams in the end zone to bring up fourth down.
Shenandoah opted again to try Smith, who bounced out to the left and tried to leap over Emory and Henry's Paul Forney but was stopped a yard short of the goal line with 15 seconds left before halftime.
"That's my fault. I need to score. In that situation I need to be able to get in the end zone," said Smith, who had 18 carries for 112 yards, nearly all of which came in the first half. "I know that I can get that one yard and that's up to me. My line did a good job. I just need to make sure that I finish off that run and get into the end zone."
The Hornets -- who managed 300 yards on 70 offensive plays -- moved the ball well up to that point as the two teams traded touchdowns in the first quarter.
Shenandoah marched 80 yards to the end zone on its first possession of the opening period, capping the drive on a 3-yard run by Smith that put the Hornets up 7-0. The Hornets were also helped by two personal foul penalties on the Wasps during the drive.
Emory and Henry answered quickly on a 62-yard touchdown strike from Boden to Jacob Hess just three plays later to tie the game, and Boden gave the Wasps a 14-7 lead on their next possession when he stepped through a Shenandoah blitz and scrambled 53 yards for a touchdown.
"A lot of guys would probably say that was luck. I honestly don't know where it came from," said Boden, who completed 15 of 28 passes for 245 yards and three touchdowns, and ran for 71 yards and another score. "My offensive line did a good job of kind of keeping the pressure outside. I saw a running lane and then I got two great blocks downfield."
The Hornets answered with a 75-yard touchdown drive, which included a 40-yard run by Andrew Smith that helped set up a 1-yard scoring plunge by Ferguson with 1:21 left in the first quarter.
Shenandoah wouldn't score again until backup quarterback Justin Neff found Smith for an 18-yard touchdown pass that cut Emory and Henry's lead to 31-20 with 4:08 left in the third quarter.
Ferguson was 10-for-19 passing for 104 yards and three interceptions, and Neff went 9-for-13 for 59 yards and a score in limited action.
Emory and Henry running back Joe Vaughn finished with 16 carries for 73 yards, including a 19-yard touchdown run that put the Wasps up 21-14 early in the second quarter.
The Hornets' defense did its part in the second half, halting three Emory and Henry drives in Shenandoah territory. The Wasps did manage a 22-yard field goal by Austin Breed in the third quarter, and Emory and Henry capped the afternoon's scoring with an 18-yard pass from Boden to Cleo Cooper with 3:53 left to play.
"On defense we blitzed a little bit more in the second half just to try to make some plays," Yoder said. "I thought in the second half we played hard. It's just frustrating right now. I know the kids are frustrated too. We've got to find a way to get it right."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org