Shenandoah still has plenty to play for

By Brad Fauber

WINCHESTER — Shenandoah University’s football team still has plenty to play for as the season nears its end. That is the collective message the Hornets are embracing with three games left in the regular season.

The Hornets dropped to 2-2 and into fourth place in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference following last Saturday’s 45-27 loss to conference leader Hampden-Sydney, but SU isn’t ready to call it quits just yet.

“We don’t know what can happen these next three games with the other teams but as long as we win these three games, take it game by game, we have a chance,” Hornets senior quarterback Drew Ferguson said Wednesday.

“We’re definitely motivated. Last year we were 4-6. This year we could potentially go 7-3, and just that aspect of it feels great. Seven and three, that’s a great season. I think we’re excited to achieve that.”

Shenandoah squares off with conference foe Randolph-Macon College this weekend, and a win would guarantee the Hornets a .500 record for the second time in four seasons. SU is also targeting its first winning season since 2011, when the Hornets went 6-4.

The Hornets (4-3) are remaining optimistic, and with two of their final three games coming against teams with losing records, it’s a good possibility that SU ends the 2014 season with a winning record. But for Shenandoah to achieve any more than that, it will need plenty of help.

Hampden-Sydney remained perfect in the ODAC with its win over the Hornets last weekend, and Emory & Henry and Guilford are each 3-1 and in second place in the conference.

“You don’t want to have to rely on somebody else to lose but at this point that’s where we’re at,” senior linebacker Sean Blackman said. “You never know what could happen. Hampden-Sydney could possibly lose two games. … You never know what could play out, so our goal is just to continue to compete and play hard every week.”

The Hornets admittedly missed an opportunity to shake up the ODAC standings against Hampden-Sydney (SU was gifted three fumble recoveries in Tiger territory early in the first quarter but mustered just 10 points in the eventual loss) but head coach Scott Yoder said Shenandoah can’t dwell on what could’ve been.

“We can be disappointed but we need to quickly refocus because there’s so much more for us as a team and a program to play for, not only against Randolph-Macon but these next three opponents,” Yoder said. “We knew that the last four games were going to be really tough but if we play well we’ll have a chance to win these next three and we want to finish what we started the right way. That’s what we’re focused on.”

TIME TO SHINE: Former Skyline High School standout and current Shenandoah freshman Travis Siever will likely make his first collegiate start this weekend against Randolph-Macon.

Siever, a 6-foot, 280-pound offensive lineman, could get the start at right tackle due to an injury to backup lineman Phil Pasco, Yoder said.

“Whether he’s ready or not, it’s his time,” Yoder said with a laugh. “It’s next man up and he’ll be ready to go. The great thing about o-line is you’re not out there on an island. You’ve got guys that have played a lot that can help him, and you’ve got veterans around him. He’s going to do well. He’s going to do fine and we’re going to find a way to get it done.”

Siever’s opportunity comes after Shenandoah’s offensive line took another big hit late in last Saturday’s game, as Pasco left after suffering a left knee injury. Last season, Pasco tore several ligaments in the same knee, and Yoder said there is a concern that Pasco re-injured his ACL. Yoder added that he won’t know more about the extent of Pasco’s injury until he undergoes an MRI next week.

Pasco filled in over the last two games for injured starter Ivan Ayala, who suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot during practice two weeks ago. Yoder said there is a chance that Ayala could return to action this week, although he said that possibility was no greater than 40 percent on Wednesday.

Ayala has had his cast removed and was in a walking boot Wednesday afternoon, and he did some jogging without pain on Tuesday, Yoder said. The senior will have to prove he can effectively engage a block without experiencing too much pain over the next two days in order to have a chance of playing Saturday, Yoder said.

PHYSICAL TEST: Shenandoah’s defense is expecting a physical rushing attack from Randolph-Macon this weekend, and the coaching staff has gotten a little creative in practice this week to help the Hornets prepare.

Hornets junior linebacker Steven Jones has been serving as the scout-team running back this week in an effort to simulate the running style of Yellow Jackets junior tailback John Byrd.

“He did it for us last year and he loves it,” Yoder said of Jones. “He runs hard and he makes our kids work on defense. It’s kind of an unwritten rule in coaching, if your kids are unhappy with you in practice, you probably had a pretty good practice. They don’t like to see him back there because they know he’s not your typical scout-team tailback who’s going to stop. His legs are going to keep moving because he’s an upperclassman, he knows what the deal is. We love that stuff … It’s a different week of practice, for sure.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com