Before the season started, Shenandoah University offensive coordinator Stan Hodgin said he wanted to see the Hornets get back to where they were in 2017 and 2018, when SU averaged 40 points a game in both seasons.
SU head coach Scott Yoder said the Hornets aren't at that level yet, but they sure seemed to take a step in the right direction last Saturday against Guilford College. The Hornets (4-1, 2-1 Old Dominion Athletic Conference) hope to continue that when they travel to Ferrum (4-1, 1-1) for an important game for both teams in the ODAC title chase. Kickoff is at 1 p.m. today.
Last week, SU piled up a season-high 592 yards (307 rushing) and had its first 50-point scoring effort since 2019 in a 52-25 win over Guilford.
The Hornets got the fast start they were hoping for (they led 17-0 after one quarter and scored the game's first 24 points), and more importantly, they sustained that high level of play. SU led 38-13 at the half and did not let Guilford record back-to-back scores at any point in the game.
"We're making progress," Yoder said of the offense. "The games that we've struggled, we haven't hit explosive plays, but we've hit some in the past couple of weeks, so that helps everybody. We're still a work in progress."
Quarterback Steven Hugney earned ODAC Offensive Player of the Week honors (16 of 31 for 285 yards, four touchdowns and one interception; 64 yards and a TD on eight carries) while connecting with eight different players. Brant Butler had 143 yards and two TDs receiving, and Hugney was one of four people who rushed for more than 40 yards, with Rashadeen Byrd Jr. (143 yards, two TDs) leading the way.
Yoder said the offensive line — which features the starting unit of left tackle Zach Morris, left guard Matthew Allen, center Noah Temme, right guard Dominic Giulli and right tackle David Munoz — did an excellent job to make it all happen.
"They did a really good job run blocking, pass blocking, being really aggressive and being more physical," Yoder said. "We talk about being the hammer and not the nail, and those guys were."
The Hornets will take on a team that not only has the same overall record, but shares a comeback win over Bridgewater. The Panthers came back from 10-0 down to beat the Eagles 14-10 last week after SU rallied to beat Bridgewater 34-27 the week before after falling behind 24-0.
Ferrum is led by second-year head coach Cleive Adams, who is a former Panthers assistant but was not on the staff when SU beat them 49-31 in their last matchup in 2019. Adams previously served as Averett's head coach.
Ferrum's defense is allowing 25 points and 379.6 yards per game.
"They do a really good job of getting hats to the football, running to the ball," Yoder said. "There's usually three or four guys around you. We've got to execute our game plan. Stevie's got to continue to develop.
"I know it's true of any offense, but three-and-outs are kind of the enemy of our offense. If we get that initial first down, we usually put a pretty good drive together. Their two inside linebackers (Billy Higgins and Drew Hill) are their best defensive players, so we're going to have guys on them, fit up on them, and if we do that it will be a good day for us."
On offense, the Panthers average 24.4 points per game and get 245.2 of their 351.8 yards per game through the air.
Quarterback Titus Jones has completed 83 of 137 passes for 1,226 yards, 10 TDs and one interception and has rushed for 116 yards and one TD.
"[Jones] can extend plays," Yoder said. "He leads the league in touchdown throws and only has one interception, so he's really being efficient with it. With him, you've got to stop play one, and when that play breaks down, can you contain or control him so he doesn't make a huge play? He can hurt you with his feet or scramble and then throw it down the field."
Seven of Jones' TD passes have gone to Tmahdae Penn (23 catches, 475 yards), a 6-foot-3, 185-pound senior.
"He's tall and lanky," Yoder said. "He goes up and makes the catch. You can have him covered and feel good about it, and he's still going to be able to go up and make contested catches. And he runs good routes and gets separation."
Yoder said special teams also should be key in the battle of two evenly matched teams. The Hornets have been stellar in special teams this year but did give up a kickoff return TD last week.
"Every game [Ferrum has] played but one has been a one-possession game," Yoder said. "I think special teams field position is going to really alter the game."
Yoder said SU is looking forward today's challenge.
"[Ferrum] is going to be excited," Yoder said. "It's Homecoming. They're 4-1. They're thinking bigger things, and so are we. It's going to be a really good football game."