WINCHESTER — Shenandoah University’s football team has displayed two different versions of itself over the past two weeks.
In a Week 5 loss to Ferrum on Sept. 29, the Hornets fell flat offensively and gained only 373 total yards — their lowest output since a loss to Hobart in Week 3 of 2017 — while a persistent Panther running game gashed Shenandoah’s defense. Last week, against Hampden-Sydney, SU responded by posting a new school record in total yards (658) and getting the stops it needed out of its defense in a 59-34 win.
Randolph-Macon, the preseason co-favorite to win the Old Dominion Athletic Conference and the only unbeaten team left in conference play, next visits Shentel Stadium, and the Hornets likely need their best version to show up on the field on Saturday afternoon.
“It definitely takes a good week of practice,” Hornets sophomore receiver Jake Wallace said on Wednesday regarding how SU goes about doing that. “You only play as good you practice, and we’ve come to see that when we have a great week of practice, we have a great game on Saturday. We’ve just gotta focus every day in practice like it is a game, and I think that will transfer over into Saturday.”
The Hornets (3-2, 1-1 ODAC) reaped the benefits of a strong week of preparation leading up to the Hampden-Sydney game, and head coach Scott Yoder said it was a “blessing” that SU had to play a high-caliber team like the Tigers following the Ferrum loss. Doing so ensured that the Hornets’ focus was sharp, and SU is in the same position as it preps for Randolph-Macon this week.
“The difference is that the guys feel a little bit better about themselves right now, so they’re a little bit more confident and ready to rock and roll,” Yoder said. “We’ve just gotta stay on them.”
Wallace and junior linebacker Bernie Hayes III both said they didn’t think lack of focus would be a problem for the Hornets this week. Hayes added that the biggest difference in practice the last two weeks was the intensity.
“It was more like we were working while we’re tired,” Hayes said. “I think that was a big part of the game, working while we’re tired, being able to do your job, know your responsibility while you’re tired. That’s the biggest part of football.”
TACKLING THE CHALLENGE: Shenandoah’s first test against one of the premier tailbacks in the ODAC two weeks ago didn’t go over well, and the Hornets’ defense gets another crack on Saturday against Randolph-Macon senior Tre Frederick.
Frederick is a two-time first team All-ODAC pick, was the conference’s offensive player of the year as a sophomore in 2016 and is the ODAC’s third-leading rusher (121.3 yards per game) entering Saturday’s contest. He’s topped 1,300 yards rushing in each of the last two seasons and has 85 carries for 485 yards and a touchdown in five games this fall.
Against Ferrum in Week 5, SU allowed 353 yards rushing as Panthers running back Brian Mann ran wild with 38 carries for 260 yards and two TDs. Hayes said the key for Shenandoah on Saturday is “executing our plan that our coaches set for us, and also getting to (Frederick) and being able to wrap up and tackle.”
“That was one of the biggest things against Brian Mann that we did not do so well,” Hayes added, “so with Tre Frederick, of course, he’s a really good back, a really fast scatback. Once we grab him, we have to wrap up and let the (other) 10 players come and tackle with us.”
Yoder agreed that tackling is the top priority for SU’s run defense this week. Though the Hornets faced a different style of offense against Hampden-Sydney’s passing attack last weekend, Yoder said he left that game feeling that Shenandoah had tackled well and made the Tigers earn what they got offensively.
“If we can get off blocks and tackle, that’s gonna be 85 percent of the game,” Yoder said. “Tre Frederick might be one of the best backs in the country, certainly in the league that we see, no doubt. Runs really hard, and if you’re not perfect on your run fits, he can take it to the house.”
BALL HAWK: Shenandoah sophomore cornerback Daquan Pridget hauled in another interception Saturday, bringing his total to five through five games. He leads the ODAC in picks at the midway point after tallying one in eight games played last season.
Pridget, who also ranks third on the team with 30 tackles, said after last week’s game that he frequently studies film of the opponent’s best receivers each week to help put him in position to make plays. Graduation losses in the secondary and his promotion to SU’s No. 1 corner have also played a part in the rise in production.
Yoder said Pridget has always been a confident player.
“The difference this year is he’s pretty much shadowing their best player, so more targets, more opportunities. That means he’s gonna get picked on sometimes, but it means the ball’s gonna be in the air to him and you can see, he can make some plays in the air. He made some big plays on Saturday. You’ve gotta have that chip on your shoulder as a DB because you’re gonna get beat. No one’s good enough to not get beat. He does have that short memory, and he’s made a lot of plays for us. We’re hoping that trend continues,” Yoder said.