WINCHESTER — Shenandoah University’s football team used the emotion from senior day last weekend in a good way and reaped the benefits in a 62-47 home win over Guilford. The Hornets will try to do something similar this Saturday.
After celebrating the final time that they will play a game at Shentel Stadium, SU’s seniors will play their final college football game at Washington and Lee on Saturday afternoon. The circumstances are different with the Hornets stepping away from home, but the emotional boost could be used in a similar manner.
“I would hope so,” Hornets senior receiver Jalen Hudson said on Wednesday. “Honestly, we can, we’ve gotta bring the fire back that this is gonna be our last ride right here, so hopefully we can have that same energy, same emotion that we had last week and put it in this week.”
Senior outside linebacker Chris Grady chalked up last week’s win to riding the energy of senior day, playing loose and with less concern about making mistakes. The Hornets’ seniors, he said, wanted to win the Guilford game “for us.”
A little bit more is also at stake at W&L, a team that has had Shenandoah’s number in recent years and has won four straight over the Hornets, including last year’s 48-21 romp that gave the Generals their fourth Old Dominion Athletic Conference title in eight years.
A Hornets win on Saturday would secure the program’s third straight non-losing season, something SU hasn’t achieved since doing so four straight seasons from 2001 to 2004. Shenandoah also had won only one of its last 14 November games before last weekend’s win, meaning the Hornets have a chance to go out on the high note that has eluded SU under head coach Scott Yoder.
“We haven’t won as many games as we wanted to but this is a really good group of kids, this is a good group for our program and they enjoy being together, and this is our last week to be together, so let’s maximize every day and let’s maximize Saturday,” Yoder said.
“It’s certainly been a disappointing year but we have a chance to finish it with two straight wins and win two in November, which we haven’t done, and springboard our program into the offseason, which I don’t think people talk enough about that. Because for the guys that aren’t the seniors, they’re gonna lift (in the offseason) thinking about these last two, and if they’re excited about it, that’s something for your program.”
GROUND-AND-POUND: SU’s run defense took strides last week against Guilford and running back De’Eric Bell. W&L’s option offense might prove to be the stiffest test of the entire season for a Shenandoah defense that is allowing 203.4 yards per game on the ground.
The Generals come into this weekend with Division III’s sixth-best rushing offense (290.9 yards per game) and feature one of the best tailbacks in the ODAC in sophomore Josh Breece, who is averaging 121.1 yards on the ground.
Grady said the complexity of W&L’s offense is what makes it such a challenge to defend.
“They’ve got a lot of things they can change and the quarterbacks are really effective at seeing the read fast and getting the handoff,” he said. “There’s just so many ways they can go about attacking you that you just have to really be disciplined and play assignment football. The biggest thing for us up front is just being strong in your gap. If you get moved out of your gap, that’s how Josh Breece is gonna hurt you, straight downhill.”
In last year’s meeting, the Generals ran for 466 yards — Breece, who scored on a 95-yard run in the final minute, accounted for 280 of those — on their way to piling up 613 total yards against Shenandoah.
The Hornets did a good job of swarming to the football against Guilford last week, but Grady said against W&L the trick will be matching the Generals’ intensity up front while not losing sight of individual assignments on a snap-by-snap basis in the process.
“We were watching the film (from last year’s game) and we were just noticing that we would have a good play, a good play, (then) get out of your gap and get hit for 60,” Grady said. “It’s a lot of just every play you’ve gotta match that intensity that their O-line’s bringing. I mean their O-line’s lined up a yard off the ball like we are. They’re basically like D-linemen, they’re not regular offensive linemen, so they’re trying to bring the pressure to you and you just have to match their intensity every snap. The one play you mess up, they’re gonna find it.”
RETURN TO FORM: Hudson missed a game due to an ankle sprain suffered in a loss to Randolph-Macon on Oct. 13 and though he returned to action two weeks ago against Bridgewater, last Saturday’s game was the first he looked like his old self.
The shifty slot receiver/occasional tailback caught eight passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns against Guilford, most of his yardage coming after the catch as a target in the quick passing game. His first TD grab came on a screen pass that he took 18 yards to the end zone, and he capped his impressive senior day performance with a 39-yard catch-and-run on another screen play, dancing around several defenders along the sideline to give SU a 22-point lead with 13:32 to play.
“I felt good,” said Hudson, who added that the adrenaline of playing his final home game numbed any pain he felt in his ankle. “My whole family came down to watch me play, even my brothers came down to watch me play (for) the first time. I had to show out for them.”