WINCHESTER -- Shenandoah University head football coach Scott Yoder said during the week leading up to his team’s season finale against Methodist University that the Hornets’ offense wanted to “have a day.” Saturday’s record-setting performance probably qualified as such.
SU set a new program record for points scored in a game in its final contest of 2019, trouncing the visiting Monarchs, 70-35, to send its seniors out in style and clinch its third winning season in the past four years.
The Hornets finished with 510 yards of offense, including 388 through the air, and averaged 8.1 yards per play, and even the defense and special teams contributed to a 10-touchdown performance that improved SU to 6-4.
“It was just incredibly fun,” said Shenandoah junior receiver Jake Wallace, who had 15 receptions -- another program record -- for 97 yards and a touchdown in the win. “I mean when all the keys on the offense just click into one, it’s like a masterpiece. It’s like the Mona Lisa out there. When we’re all just playing at our highest level and executing all plays, like no matter what they call we know we’re gonna get it done, it’s something. It’s really beautiful.”
SU’s offense didn’t need to do all of the heavy lifting -- junior defensive back Daquan Pridget returned a blocked punt 20 yards for a score during a 35-point outburst in the second quarter, and sophomore Trammel Anthony returned an interception 75 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter -- but the Hornets were wildly efficient with the football.
Shenandoah was 7-for-9 on third downs and scored touchdowns on eight of its 12 offensive possessions. The Hornets punted twice, the last one coming late in the fourth quarter with their second-string offense on the field.
“Anything we ran we got positive yards with,” freshman quarterback Chris Sonnenberg said. “It was just a matter of us not beating ourselves. We finally didn’t beat ourselves.”
On a day full of big-time performances, perhaps none stood taller than 6-foot-4 senior receiver Casey Stewart. In his final college game, Stewart caught 10 passes for 207 yards and two touchdowns while becoming SU’s first 1,000-yard receiver since 2011 and rising to fifth on the Old Dominion Athletic Conference’s list for career touchdown receptions (34).
The Warren County High School grad was 17 yards short of tying Shenandoah’s single-game receiving record.
“You couldn’t have asked to go out a better way. This was a game that I’m never, ever gonna forget,” Stewart said.
“At the end of the day I just want to win the ballgame but at the same time, I have the utmost confidence in myself to be able to make the plays to get myself to get those records. Today it was just a really big day. Ten targets, 10 catches, I don’t think I’ve ever done that before. To go out like that and getting close to some records, it’s good and I’m happy.”
Junior tight end Jack Massie joined Stewart in hauling in two touchdown catches from Sonnenberg, who bounced back from a four-interception performance in a loss to Washington and Lee to complete 30 of 35 passes for 367 yards, five touchdowns and one pick against Methodist.
“The coaches gave me confidence,” said Sonnenberg, who was making his third career start. “They told me after last week’s performance that I was still QB1 and I just rode with that confidence all the way up until today.
“Today I wasn’t playing for myself, I was playing for the seniors. It’s their last game, we’ve got to go out with a bang.”
Saturday’s contest was tied 7-7 at the end of the first quarter before Shenandoah exploded for 28 unanswered points in a span of 6 ½ minutes. A Sonnenberg-to-Stewart TD on a 6-yard fade pass on the first play of the second quarter started the onslaught, and Rashadeen Byrd’s 2-yard scoring run put SU up two scores three minutes later.
The Hornets stretched the lead to 28-7 when Koby Cloutier laid out to block an Ian Switzer punt and Pridget scooped up the loose ball and toted it into the end zone with 9:34 left in the first half.
Methodist’s punt unit was a disaster early, as the Monarchs had a first-quarter punt partially blocked and fired a snap over the punter’s head for a 30-yard loss that set up SU’s third scoring drive before Pridget’s scoop-and-score.
“That’s what (special teams coordinator Kalvin) Oliver stressed all week, that one of us was gonna come free and we just trust it, and that’s what happened,” Pridget said of the blocked punt. “One of us came free and the rest was celebrating in the end zone.”
Pridget had a pass break-up and an interception in addition to his TD.
“I told all my seniors I just wanted to go out, get them a great performance before they left,” Pridget said.
On Methodist’s next drive after the blocked punt, Monarchs quarterback Brandon Bullins fired a third-down pass right into the arms of SU sophomore linebacker Ben Burgan at midfield. Burgan returned the interception to the Methodist 23, setting up Sonnenberg’s 14-yard TD pass to Wallace that stretched the lead to 28.
Burgan’s pick was the first of three in the win for Shenandoah, which allowed 492 yards on 86 plays and gave up 21 points in the fourth quarter while playing its reserves for most of the final frame.
“We had a really good plan the whole week,” said Burgan, who led SU with 11 tackles and tallied a fourth-down sack to cap a goal-line stand at the start of the third quarter. “It was just getting to slant windows for the Sam linebacker. Just get into the slant windows and they’ll throw it to you. (Defensive coordinator Brock McCullough) was saying it all week, just stay in there and they’ll throw it to you because their No. 1 route concept was the slant. If you’re there, we had over and under coverage so it should be there. It obviously worked out.”
Massie’s first touchdown catch late in the second quarter gave SU a 42-14 lead, and his second scoring grab in the third quarter made it 49-14.
Both teams alternated scoring the final six touchdowns of the contest in the fourth quarter, with senior running back Mario Wisdom (13 carries for 87 yards, two touchdowns) capping the Hornets’ scoring with a 6-yard run with 5:29 left.
“It’s really important for the program to be 6-4,” said Yoder, whose team posted identical marks in 2016 and 2017. “That group of seniors, to go out having never experienced a losing season, I think they’re the second-winningest group of seniors that have gone through this program. That means a lot, and it also sends a message to the younger guys, what are you gonna build on? You start at 6-4, what are you gonna build on from here?”