WINCHESTER -- Shenandoah University’s football game at home against Emory & Henry on Saturday afternoon had a bit of everything.
There was a lopsided first half that saw the Wasps score the game’s first 24 points and take a 21-point lead into halftime. There was drama as a comeback bid saw Shenandoah make it a one-score game in the third quarter.
There was a special-teams blunder that led to a scoop-and-score, an interception returned for a touchdown, an inadvertent whistle on a potential game-altering play, a successful onside kick, personal fouls galore -- including one on an assistant coach for each team -- and 20 penalties that totaled 201 yards.
One offense could do no wrong in the first quarter and then slogged through most of the final 40 minutes of game time. The other found no success early, turned to a third-string quarterback who attempted 62 passes and ran 101 total plays.
In the end, Shenandoah was on the wrong end of a 41-31 game that extended Emory & Henry’s winning streak to five in a row and dropped the Hornets to 4-3 overall and 3-3 in the ODAC.
“It was a roller coaster ride,” Hornets head coach Scott Yoder said. “... It was just a crazy game. It was a roller coaster, but obviously you can’t give them a special teams touchdown. We gave them a pick-six, so think there’s a ton to learn from. Our guys did not give up, not that we ever should, and we found a way to claw back into the game, so if you’re looking for positives, there’s that.”
Saturday could’ve looked much uglier from Shenandoah’s perspective. Emory & Henry (5-2, 4-1) led 17-0 after one quarter and 24-0 early in the second quarter, and the Hornets seemingly had no answer for a Wasp offense that won every 50-50 ball that quarterback Hunter Taylor lofted his receivers’ way through the first 20 minutes.
Taylor completed his first six pass attempts for 177 yards -- an average of 29.5 yards per completion -- as the Yates brothers, Derrick and Max, consistently outdueled Shenandoah’s defensive backs on jump balls.
Hornets senior safety Nate Hill said afterward that it was a frustrating first 20 minutes for SU’s secondary.
“Yeah, I’m not gonna lie. Some of us held our heads down,” said Hill, who notched his sixth interception in seven games later in the contest. “The coaches were talking to us like ‘hey, you’re our big players, you can’t do that.’ I was one of them. It was kind of getting to me. But after halftime we sat down, talked, everything worked out. Under pressure, we’ve just got to continue to play.
“We have, to me, some of the best DBs in all of the ODAC,” Hill added. “We’ve got to make those plays.”
After opening up a 10-point lead following Matt Seals’ 29-yard field goal and Da’von Keith’s 40-yard fumble return for a touchdown after Shenandoah botched a snap on a punt attempt, the Wasps put back-to-back touchdown drives together that ended with scoring passes of 23 and 9 yards to Max Yates.
Derrick Yates, a 6-foot-6 matchup nightmare and the ODAC’s leading receiver, had a ho-hum day while being shadowed by Shenandoah’s receiver-turned-defensive wild card Trammel Anthony, finishing with three receptions for 66 yards. But younger brother Max was a nuisance to SU’s defense in the first half, hauling in five catches for 141 yards and a pair of TDs.
“They’re a very good offense. We need to just lock in,” Anthony said. “At the beginning of the game we were all nervous because we knew this was a big game, so I guess our emotion had to do with how we started out the game. But then we got back up in the second half.”
As helpless as Shenandoah’s defense seemed for much of the first half, the Hornets adjusted -- Anthony said they went with less man coverage and more Cover 3 zone after E&H’s early offensive blitz -- and allowed just 66 of the Wasps’ 425 yards in the second half. Taylor, who finished with 247 yards passing and 92 yards rushing, had just 26 yards through the air in the second half.
That allowed Shenandoah to creep back into the game, but not before the Hornets’ quarterback carousel took another turn late in the first quarter. Freshman QB Chris Sonnenberg, whose only college action prior to Saturday was in a mop-up role in a win over Guilford a month ago, replaced Ben Rhodenizer to start SU’s third offensive series against the Wasps and led a comeback bid that saw the Hornets score 24 of the next 31 points after E&H took a 24-0 lead.
Sonnenberg completed 34 of 62 passes for 340 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions to lead an SU offense that ran 101 plays and finished with 515 yards. His final pick of the day came on the last play of the game on an otherwise meaningless play, and another served the same function as a punt on a long third-down pass. But Sonnenberg did throw a costly interception midway through the fourth quarter that Grayson Overstreet returned 80 yards for a touchdown to put E&H up by 17 points with 7:50 to play.
“He hung in there,” Yoder said of Sonnenberg. “He does what he’s coached to do and I thought (offensive coordinator Stan Hodgin and quarterbacks coach Hayden Bauserman) did a good job just calling within the limits of the offense to help everyone because it wasn’t just Chris. At one point we had guys playing out of position (on the offensive line).”
A Shenandoah running game that had been nonexistent in recent weeks put Shenandoah on the board when running back Mario Wisdom, aided by a nice downfield block from receiver Casey Stewart, ripped off a 59-yard touchdown run to immediately answer E&H’s third touchdown early in the second quarter.
“The first touchdown we got, that brought big energy, big energy to us,” said SU freshman running back Sam Adams, who had 95 yards rushing and 48 receiving in the loss. “The defense came in, did their job. Offense stepped up again, got another touchdown. Emotions, they got high. They got really high. We just had to keep our heads up, just focus and control the controllables. That’s what coach tells us to do and that’s what we did to bring it to a (one) score game.”
SU added a Drew Geyer field goal late in the first half to cut the deficit to 14, but the defense allowed a Wasp touchdown drive in the closing minutes of the second quarter. The Hornets nearly had a timely fumble recovery to halt the drive, but the referees convened and ruled that there was an inadvertent whistle and the down was replayed.
E&H was in the end zone on the next play to take a 31-10 lead into halftime.
Sonnenberg seemed to find a comfort zone in the third quarter and orchestrated an 11-play, 77-yard drive that ended with his 9-yard touchdown pass to Brant Butler.
The freshmen QB led a nine-play, 69-yard scoring drive later in the third quarter that included a fourth-down conversion on Sonnenberg’s short pass to Adams deep in E&H territory and ended with Adams’ 17-yard touchdown run that pulled SU within 31-24.
Sonnenberg threw his second touchdown pass to Jake Wallace with 3:51 to play to cut E&H’s lead to 41-31.
“We were down early,” Sonnenberg said, “so I mean I go out there, try as hard as I can, have fun because we’re already down. What I do can’t really be any worse, might as well go and try to make plays.”