Shenandoah hopes familiarity pays off against Ferrum

By Brad Fauber

WINCHESTER — Shenandoah University’s football team suffered a letdown in its home opener last weekend, and the Hornets will be looking to get back on track tonight against visiting Ferrum.

The Hornets — who missed plenty of opportunities in last Saturday’s 20-10 loss to Frostburg State — are hoping to correct the mistakes that plagued them in their first defeat of the young season.

Shenandoah has a chance to do that against a familiar opponent in Ferrum, a longtime rival of the Hornets dating back to when SU played alongside the Panthers as members of the USA South conference. This will be the 18th meeting between the two teams.

The Hornets are hoping another form of familiarity will be working to their advantage tonight. Ferrum, a spread-option team, will be the second option-based offense that Shenandoah will face in the season’s first three weeks.

SU saw a more traditional triple-option attack in Week 1 against Gallaudet — an offense the Hornets stymied en route to a 20-0 win — and though Ferrum’s offense operates out of shotgun and pistol formations, Shenandoah head coach Scott Yoder said the two offenses have a lot of “fundamental similarities.”

“Those same things our guys were practicing eight, nine days ago are really going to help us in this game,” Yoder said Wednesday. “That in a way makes me feel a little bit better.”

Ferrum’s offense uses multiple ball carriers, but Shenandoah’s primary focus will be on Panthers senior quarterback Tim Reynolds.

Reynolds was far and away Ferrum’s most effective rusher in the Panthers’ season-opening loss to Emory & Henry two weeks ago (Ferrum was off last week), as he carried 16 times for 89 yards. Reynolds also completed 8 of 26 passes for 114 yards and an interception.

The Hornets (1-1) limited Reynolds to 21 yards on 12 carries last season en route to Yoder’s first win at Shenandoah, but the senior showed enough to warrant Yoder’s full attention this week.

“He made us look bad last year and I know there’s going to be times on Saturday night that he’s going to make us look bad. We just need to find a way to make sure he doesn’t take control of the game,” Yoder said. “We’ve just got to slow him down. He’s probably a better runner than he is a thrower, but he can still throw it and he’s one of those guys that can make a kid miss and take it 70 yards on every snap. So he scares me.”

The Panthers managed just 286 total yards of offense in their Week 1 loss, including 172 yards rushing on 46 carries (3.7 yards per rush). Ferrum also failed to reach the end zone, netting all of its points on four Hunter Ferguson field goals.

Shenandoah’s defense has been especially stingy against the run so far, allowing just 179 rushing yards on 98 carries (1.8 yards per rush) in the first two games. SU is allowing 197.5 yards of total offense per game, by far the best mark in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference.

“We are getting the push up front that we need, especially against these running teams,” said Hornets sophomore defensive tackle Jake Shaffer, who is tied for the team lead with 18 tackles (3TFL). “I hope that continues on with Ferrum. If we do our job and then the linebackers do their job, that’s why the run is getting shut down.

“The statistics are impressive but we keep that in mind that we try to get better each week.”

The Hornets’ offense has shown the ability to move the football, but SU has had some trouble finishing drives. Last week, the Hornets managed just 10 points despite driving five times to the Frostburg State 25-yard line.

Shenandoah is averaging 348.5 yards of total offense and churned out 402 yards in last week’s loss. The Hornets are currently rushing for 216.5 yards per game, led by sophomore Cedrick Delaney, who is averaging 91 rushing yards per game after running for a career-high 135 yards on 13 carries against Frostburg State.

Hornets senior quarterback Drew Ferguson has also remained a significant running threat despite Yoder’s assertion throughout fall camp that the Hornets would limit Ferguson’s designed run plays in order to keep him healthy. Ferguson has carried 27 times for 105 yards while completing 31 of 54 pass attempts for 241 yards and an interception in the first two games.

Ferrum’s defense — which allowed 552 yards in its opener — is operating under a new defensive coordinator in Phil Elmassian this season, and Yoder said he expects to see a four-man front from Ferrum tonight as opposed to the odd-man fronts the Panthers have used in the past. However, Yoder added that the Hornets can expect Ferrum to throw in a few wrinkles to their base defense after having two weeks to prepare for Shenandoah.

Yoder said Shenandoah will attempt to run right at Ferrum’s defense in order to counteract the Panthers’ skill on the outside.

“Going east-west on them, even though we’ve got good team speed, that plays right into their strengths,” Yoder said. “They’re better on the outside and they run pretty well. So I think you’re going to see more of a downhill emphasis, at least early on to get going. That’s what we need to do.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or bfauber@nvdaily.com