WINCHESTER – Shenandoah University’s football team seized some momentum with a road win at Guilford last week to avoid an 0-2 start to Old Dominion Athletic Conference play. The Hornets could use that confidence against an unfamiliar opponent this weekend.
Shenandoah hosts first-year ODAC member Southern Virginia University in a homecoming contest tonight in what will be the first-ever meeting on the gridiron between the two schools.
The Hornets’ first home game of the season was a dud – SU fell to rival Bridgewater, 35-17, two weeks ago – but the hope is that their Week 4 win over Guilford gives them a little extra juice tonight at Shentel Stadium.
“After (the Bridgewater loss), confidence was pretty low and everyone’s kind of knocked down a peg,” Hornets junior quarterback Ben Agostino said on Wednesday, “but now going into homecoming, this is the first time we’ve ever played Southern Virginia, and this week we’ve talked about it’s all about us. We don’t really know what we’re getting into with Southern Virginia. We’ve never played them before. Being able to have that confidence from last week, saying ‘OK, we can play this well, let’s build on that,’ the confidence from last week is huge.”
Shenandoah (2-1, 1-1 ODAC) got its most complete effort of the season in last week’s win, a 26-7 triumph over what the Hornets considered a very athletic Guilford team. Against Southern Virginia, SU will face what head coach Scott Yoder said will be the biggest offensive and defensive lines it will see all season.
The Knights (2-1, 1-1), who are coming off their own lopsided loss to Bridgewater in a 40-6 setback last weekend after opening the season with wins over Montclair State and Hampden-Sydney, average 304 pounds along their offensive line and 256 pounds along their four-man defensive front.
“Aesthetically they’re massive,” Agostino said, “they’re big people.”
Southern Virginia’s hefty offensive line paves the way for senior tailback Akiva Wedge, who leads the ODAC in rushing (148.7 yards per game) by a comfortable margin and has piled up 446 yards and four rushing scores in three games. Wedge is averaging 6.9 yards per carry.
“He’s one of those kids that every time he touches it he can take it to the house, and I’ve seen him run through tackles and run around guys,” Yoder said of the 5-foot-9, 195-pound Wedge. “We are gonna have to have lots of eyes on him. At the same time, they’ve got a bunch of veteran receivers that I don’t think anyone jumps out saying ‘Oh my goodness, this guy needs to be double-covered,’ but if you make a mistake they’ll burn you.
“They got after Hampden-Sydney. They beat Montclair. They’re used to playing in the New Jersey Athletic Conference, which my knowledge of that is it’s a big, physical, tough game every game, so they’re not afraid to try to bully you.”
Shenandoah, which ranks fourth in the ODAC in scoring defense (20.3 points allowed per game) and sixth in total defense (389.7 yards per game), is coming off arguably its best defensive performance of the season against Guilford, during which the Hornets tallied five sacks and three takeaways and cut down on the big plays that had haunted them through the first two weeks.
Sophomore defensive tackle Mason Caldwell said the Hornets did more stunting against Guilford than they had in previous games, something that Shenandoah could again employ this week as it tries to counteract the Knights’ size.
“They’re definitely huge up front, so that’s gonna be key in this game, is us D-line getting loose and getting around those guys,” Caldwell said.
“Definitely moving around like we did last game. Big guys can’t move as well, so you just move around them. But when you go and fire off straight into their chest, they’re just gonna hold you there and you’re not gonna see that running back or quarterback going away with the ball.”
Offensively, Shenandoah has moved the football well – the Hornets are second in the ODAC in total yards (422.7 per game) – but has had trouble putting points on the end of drives that trek to the plus-side of the 50-yard line.
Yoder said he doesn’t expect a Southern Virginia defensive unit that is allowing 26 points and 412.3 yards per game this season to surprise the Hornets with X’s and O’s on Saturday, but he added that the Knights play good team defense and limit big plays. SVU is tied for second in the ODAC with nine takeaways.
“It’s one of those games that we’re used to playing that if we play our style of football, if we tempo, if we make plays, if we use our quickness and athleticism, advantage us,” Yoder said. “If it’s a fistfight in a phone booth, we’re not gonna win that. Who can execute at a higher level? Can our defense get off the field? Can we score, make them chase us? Those are all things that’ll play into how this game eventually turns out.”