Tigers shake off early turnovers for a win
By Jim Laise – email@example.com
WINCHESTER — Visiting Hampden-Sydney spotted Shenandoah three fumbles the first eight times it touched the ball Saturday, but still ruined the Hornets’ homecoming, 45-27, before 3,087 fans on Saturday at Shentel Stadium.
For the Tigers (6-1, 4-0), ranked No. 24 in NCAA Division III, it was the sixth straight victory and kept them atop the standings in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference. Meanwhile, the Hornets (4-3, 2-2) ended a modest two-game win streak.
“We’ve won four games, which is as many as we had all year. It’s October, and we still have three games ahead of us. Randolph-Macon (1-3, 3-4) is coming in here (Saturday), and they’re a fine team. We’ll have to be ready for them,” Yoder said.
“Anything can happen in the ODAC, that’s why you have to keep playing,” added SU junior defensive end Jake Payne.
Just about anything did happen on Sprint Field, at least in the early going.
Hampden-Sydney fumbled a shuttle pass on its second play from scrimmage, bobbled a snap on a punt two series later, and let go of a fumble on a kickoff return on the following possession. Shenandoah recovered each time, but came out of the foray with only 10 points — and a 10-0 lead — which might have led to its undoing.
“If anything, I think it may have made us lighten up a little bit on defense. Maybe we got too confident. It could have hurt,” said Payne.
Facing a quarterback like Hampden-Sydney’s Nash Nance (21 completions, 31 attempts, 381 yards and 3 touchdowns) and a pass-catcher like 6-foot-4 Holton Walker (5 receptions, 167 yards and 2 TDs), the last thing Shenandoah wanted to do was snub its own chances.
As Yoder said, “Against Hampden-Sydney, you don’t want to kick field goals, you want to score touchdowns.”
The Hornets could muster but three on a warm, breezy day against an offense that produced 491 yards and a half-dozen touchdowns.
Hampden-Sydney’s defense played well, too. Shenandoah produced a respectable 375 yards, including 177 on the ground. But the Tigers’ defense made key plays throughout the game.
Perhaps the most dominating defender on the field was safety John Moore, who had eight tackles and deflected a pass.
“It was a good day for John, which is good, Hampden-Sydney coach Marty Favret said. “He was coming off a sub-par game for him (a 49-27 victory over Emory & Henry), so this was important. He’s the heart-and-soul of our defense. As he goes, so do we.”
Shenandoah won the toss and elected to kick off, which looked like a sharp decision when a Nance shuttle pass was recovered by Shenandoah freshman Cedric Bridges at the Hampden-Sydney 36-yard line.
The Hornets could do little with it and relied on freshman place-kicker Jacob Newton to bang home a 32-yard field goal that sent them ahead 3-0 just a minute and five seconds into the game.
The Hornets were forced to punt on their next series, but the Tigers were more than willing to hand the ball back to them. Nance bobbled a shotgun snap on first down and Payne pounced on it. Shenandoah had another excellent opportunity with a first-and-goal at the H-SC 6.
This time the Hornets, who defeated the Tigers at Hampden-Sydney last year, made sure they got the ball into the end zone. Kyle Hopkins rushed the ball in from the 1-yard line and the home team had a 10-0 lead with 9:46 remaining in the first period.
It was not enough. H-SC’s Ronnie Stringfield fumbled away the ensuing kickoff return and Shenandoah freshman Dieon DuPont gobbled it up at the visitors’ 22.
The Hornets thought they had scored on their drive when quarterback Drew Ferguson (198 passing yards, 47 rushing) appeared to have hit a receiver in the end zone. However, the officials ruled the pass-catcher out-of-bounds before returning to the field of play. This nullified the play. To make matters worse, Newton was wide right with his subsequent field goal attempt.
“I’m sure Scott would have preferred to have had more than 10 points (off the turnovers),” Favret said.
“There’s no doubt we missed some opportunities, and you certainly would want to have the 10 points there,” Yoder said.
The Tigers were done losing the ball for the day.
They moved 80 yards on 12 plays, with the pay-off coming on a 4-yard run by Brady Macko for a touchdown which made it 10-7 with 4:10 to go. Nance hit key passes of 14 and 27 yards on the possession.
“When we got down by 10 there was no tension, no nervousness. We didn’t point fingers at each other because we knew what to do,” Nance said.
Hampden-Sydney took the lead for good in the second period on a 70-yard bomb between Nash, who initially signed with Tennessee, and Michael Mey, a VMI transfer. Mey went up in the air and pulled the ball from SU defensive back David Wilburn. He then ran alone the rest of the way. The Tigers led 14-10 with 10:57 showing in the half.
H-SC safety Moore deflected a Ferguson pass on a third-down play on Shenandoah’s next possession. The momentum had shifted, even though Newton came through with a 23-yard field goal with five minutes remaining before intermission.
Those would be the last of the Shenandoah points until the fourth quarter.
Hampden-Sydney marched 73 yards on eight plays on its next possession. It was a drive that was topped off by a 27-yard field goal by H-SC’s Max Antwerpes. The kick extended the Tigers’ lead to 17-13 with 1:47 to go.
Shenandoah refused to slow down. DuPont returned a kick to midfield. On the day, the Hornets returned six kickoffs for a 25.2-yard average.
It took the Hornets about a minute to get to the Tigers’ 29, but on fourth-and-inches, the Tigers’ Josh Doggett and Moore stuffed the run to prevent the score.
“We could have gone for it, but we had some momentum and, anyway, we needed a touchdown, not three points,” Yoder said.
Nance continued to dominate the second half. He bolted one yard for a score with 10:21 remaining in the third period to make it 24-13. This culminated a seven-play, 63-yard drive.
Shenandoah had to punt on its next two possessions. After the second kick, Nance connected with Walker in the back of the end zone for a 24-yard touchdown strike. The score was 31-13 with 3:18 left in the period.
A 19-yard punt return by Bridges to the H-SC 41 helped usher in Shenandoah’s first touchdown since 9:46 was left in the third period.
Ferguson dropped a pass of 29 yards to Qlyl Middelijn to get the ball to the SU 26. From there, Ferguson passed to a wide-open Levi Hardy for a score that made it 31-20 with 12:30 remaining in the game.
Nance and company dispelled any thought Shenandoah had of a comeback when they drove to another TD on a short field after covering an onside kick attempt. Nash went over from the 1-yard line for his second score of the day and a 38-20 advantage with 8:36 remaining in the game.
On the next series, Nash found his favorite receiver, Walker, on a 72-yard bomb-the longest play of the day. It was 45-20 with 5:53 to go.
SU’s touchdown of the day went to Middelijn, who hauled in a 13-yard TD strike with 3:49 to go.
“Basically by then, they were trading downs for time,” Yoder said.
“Yeah, it’s called a prevent defense because it prevents you from winning,” joked Favret.
Not this day.