Hornets break ‘curse,’ get back-to-back wins

By Tommy Keeler Jr.

WINCHESTER — The ‘curse’ is gone.

Shenandoah University won back-to-back games for the first time under second-year head football coach Scott Yoder last week, a 24-14 win over Catholic University. The win was a big relief for the players.

“It was a huge win,” Shenandoah senior quarterback Drew Ferguson said. “We used to think we were cursed. It kind of broke the curse.”

“It was special. It meant a lot,” Shenandoah senior linebacker Sean Blackman said. “We’ve been trying. We had an opportunity earlier this year, and it didn’t happen. In the back of our heads we knew that getting two in a row was big for this program and good for our team. It helps us with our confidence. It shows us that we can win consecutive games if we play the way we should play.”

Yoder said they tried to not talk much about winning two in a row, but everyone was certainly aware of it. He said that the most important thing was the team staying focused on doing what it needed to do to play well, and preparing in the right way.

The win couldn’t have come at a better time, with Old Dominion Athletic Conference defending champ Hampden-Sydney coming to Winchester on Saturday.

“We need to get a little roll going. Certainly with a big one this week we needed some momentum, and I thought it was huge,” Yoder said.

FACING ADVERSITY: Sometimes a negative can turn into a positive, and Yoder thought that’s what happened in the victory over Catholic last weekend.

The Hornets led 21-0 late in the third quarter, and Ferguson went in for what the team thought was an apparent touchdown. However, the ball came out and Catholic returned the fumble 100 yards for a touchdown. The ruling on the field was that Ferguson fumbled before crossing the goal line, cutting the lead to 21-7. Catholic scored again with 8:22 left in the game to cut the lead to 21-14.

“All of a sudden, the game you had control of, all of a sudden it’s ‘uh-oh.’ That can’t be the mentality,” Yoder said.

The Hornets went 43 yards on 12 plays on the ensuing drive, and Jacob Newton’s 29-yard field goal with 2:33 left in the game basically sealed the win for the Hornets.

“Looking back on that, facing some adversity on the road, controlling a game for most of the game, and then feeling like it’s getting away from you and having to kind of regroup and reassert yourself — I don’t think that can be anything but positive for your team,” Yoder said. “Our guys feel like OK, maybe we could have got the shutout, but we didn’t. But maybe that’s a great thing for our program. … On the road, in a situation like that, what more could you ask for? So I think that’s a positive thing.”

Ferguson said the game-clinching drive showed how well the Hornets can overcome adversity.

“We knew we needed to get points on the board that drive,” Ferguson said. “It was a huge drive for us and everyone took it well. We’ve overcome adversity so many times since we’ve been together, and that really showed our mental toughness on that drive.”

LINEMEN SHUFFLE: Shenandoah senior right tackle Ivan Ayala suffered a foot injury at practice last Thursday and was unable to play against Catholic.

Yoder said Ayala broke the fifth metatarsal in his foot, which is called a Jones fracture, during a pre-practice workout.

“He’s in a cast. From what everyone’s told us, this is not a ‘he’ll be back in a week.’ This is a broken bone that’s fractured through, and he can’t put any weight on it,” Yoder said. “I hate it for Ivan, because he’s a senior and he was playing well. It certainly hurts us moving forward. If that’s the end of his football career you hate it for the kid, because it’s not how things should end, but you play this game long enough injuries are going to happen.”

The Hornets moved junior right guard Marcus Jenkins to right tackle, and started junior Philip Pasco at right guard, the first varsity start of his career.

Yoder said that he was happy with how Jenkins and Pasco played.

“They handled it really well,” Yoder said. “The way O-line coach, coach [Brock] McCullough does it, it wasn’t a ‘what are we going to do?’ We already had a plan. Pasco’s played a lot inside, Jenkins has played tackle. They might not have started in a game like that, but it wasn’t a foreign situation. Certainly not having Ivan out there hurts us, but there’s no doubt in my mind that we’re ready. We have the best people in there for what we’re trying to do.”

Shenandoah did get some good news this week on the injury front as junior wide receiver Brandon Adams is back practicing with the team, after being out with a lower leg contusion all season. Yoder said he wasn’t sure if or how much Adams, who led the team with 377 yards receiving last season, would play this week against Hampden-Sydney.

“We’ve been slow to bring him back and careful with him, and don’t know how much he could play just conditioning-wise,” Yoder said. “But he’s back, he’s full speed. … Is he going to get 50 snaps on Saturday? Probably not. Right now it’s hard to say how much he’s going to get.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com