Plenty at stake for Shenandoah

By Tommy Keeler Jr.

WINCHESTER — It’s all in front of Shenandoah University’s football team.

A chance to gain more respect, a chance to move into first place and take a big step towards winning an Old Dominion Athletic Conference title, is all there for the taking today. Shenandoah hosts first-place and defending ODAC champ Hampden-Sydney College today at 1 p.m. in the Hornets’ Homecoming game.

“It would be a huge win for the team, to let the school know that our football team can compete in NCAA Division III with some of the top-ranked teams,” Shenandoah senior quarterback Drew Ferguson said. “We’re definitely ready. We’ve got a bunch of young guys, but they brought something special to the team this year that we didn’t have last year. I’d say a spark.”

Knocking off No. 24 ranked Hampden-Sydney won’t be anything new for the Hornets, as they did it last year on the road, 36-35.

The Hornets were down 19-0 in that game before rallying for the upset win. However, they know that the Tigers will be ready for some revenge this year.

“I know they going to come after it, since we beat them last year,” Shenandoah running back Cedrick Delaney said. “We were the only team that beat them last year. They know they have to beat us this year. It’s going to be a big game for us, so we just got to come out and play.”

The biggest test for the Hornets will be stopping a powerful Hampden-Sydney offense. The Tigers are averaging 46.3 points and 450 yards per game. They have thrown for 1,864 yards and rushed for 836.

The Tigers are led by quarterback Nash Nance. The senior is 127 for 190 passing for 1,793 yards, and has 19 touchdowns and only five interceptions.

“He’s able to make the correct passes and make them accurate, too,” Shenandoah senior linebacker Sean Blackman said. “We’ve just got to be in his face, get him off his spot and do whatever we can to make him unpoised and to get him unfocused on what he’s trying to do. “

Nance has a reliable target to throw to as well in the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Holton Walker, who has 41 receptions for 831 yards and seven touchdowns.

“They’re probably the best tandem, as far as quarterback and receiver, we’ll see all year,” Blackman said.

The Hornets have played well on defense at times this season. Shenandoah’s defense only allowed seven points to Catholic University last week in a 42-14 win — the other touchdown came on a fumble recovery.

Two weeks ago, the Hornets held a powerful Guilford offense that was averaging over 40 points a game to 31 points in a 47-31 victory.

“Ever since the first game of the season, our confidence has been slowly been rising,” Blackman said of the defense. “Then that win against Gulford, it really showed that we could keep up with the best in the ODAC. Our confidence is at a high, and we’re going to maintain that high level of confidence.”

The Tigers have also been solid on defense. They are allowing only 22.8 points per game, which is third-best in the league.

The Hornets have been clicking on offense the last two games, averaging more than 35 points in the two games, and they are averaging 28.2 points for the season.

Shenandoah has ran for 1,569 yards and thrown for 797 yards. Delaney leads the team with 664 yards, but said the offensive line has been the biggest reason for his success.

Ferguson also said the offensive line has helped the passing game tremendously.

“Having an O-line in front of you like I have, I don’t have to worry about getting sacked,” Ferguson said. “I don’t have to worry about scrambling. I can just sit in the pocket and throw the ball. It’s the same exact O-line I had last year and they’ve done very well this year.”

The Hornets are tied for second in the ODAC, and a win would move them into a tie for first going into the final three games of the season. Shenandoah head coach Scott Yoder said it’s great for the program, which won only five games combined in the last two seasons, to be in this position at this point in the season.

“It’s awesome,” Yoder said. “It’s October, you’re getting close to Halloween, and everybody’s conference around the country is shaping up and everyone’s making predictions. And the fact that we’re 4-2 and they’re 5-1 … the two teams are 9-3 combined and you’re playing in October, on a Homecoming game — it’s going to be a great football game.

“From a coaching standpoint, you don’t have to do a lot to get your guys focused this week because they know Nash Nance is coming to town. Holten Walker’s coming to town. The league champs are coming to town. They went to the Sweet 16 last year. You don’t have to do a lot of extra stuff as a coach to get them focused because if we’re not focused, we don’t have a chance in this one.”

Blackman said the main goal for the Hornets has always been to win the ODAC title, and they know that this win will help them take a big step to achieve that.

“We want to go out there and compete and be competing for that ring,” Blackman said. “We have the right assets on the team. The coaching staff is great. The players are great. We always have the right game plan. We just got to go out there and execute, and we’ve been doing that pretty well the last few weeks.

“I feel like if we continue to do that, like I said, we own our own destiny and we can compete for that ODAC championship.”

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