SU football falls to Gallaudet in opener, 31-20

Posted: September 9, 2013

The Winchester Star

Shenandoah University running back Andrew Smith soars through the air after having his feet knocked out from under him by a Gallaudet defender in the Cardinals’ 31-20 win over the Hornets at Shentel Stadium on Saturday night. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)
Shenandoah University freshman quarterback Justin Neff, a former Millbrook High School standout, threw for 219 yards and a touchdown in SU’s 31-20 loss Saturday. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)

WINCHESTER — Deception played a big role in giving the Shenandoah University football team a chance to win Saturday’s season opener against Gallaudet University.

The Hornets never got to experience a lead though because the deception that’s so much a part of seemingly every play in the Bison’s triple-option offense kept them playing catch-up all night.

Gallaudet earned a 31-20 non-conference victory over SU before a crowd of 1,312 Saturday at Shentel Stadium to deny the Hornets their third historic win in three attempts against the Bison.

SU’s first win after restarting its football program in 2000 came on Sept. 20, 2000 against Gallaudet (1-0), and the Bison fell to the Hornets (0-1) in the first-ever game at Shentel Stadium in 2001. Saturday marked the debut of Hornets first-year head coach Scott Yoder.

Gallaudet led 14-0 after seven minutes and 10 seconds — going 68 yards on four plays for their first score and 61 yards on seven plays on their second — and never led by less than seven points in a game in which the Bison rolled up 390 rushing yards on 6.5 yards per carry.

And defensively, they were stout. The Hornets had 346 yards, but more than half of that total (180 yards) came from three deceptive plays (which contributed to the their first two touchdowns) and their final touchdown drive that started with 2:16 left, when SU was down 31-14. Gallaudet also forced three turnovers.

“It’s tough to really feel good right now, when you put so much in and you come up short,” Yoder said. “Honestly, Gallaudet took it to us. We had trouble getting off the field. We had trouble stopping them, slowing them down. So we’ve got some work to do.

“I think you’ll see from Game 1 to Game 2, big improvement. For a team, that’s usually the case, and I expect that from us.”

The Hornets expected some misdirection from Gallaudet’s offense coming in, but SU was overwhelmed on its first two drives.

Bison sophomore quarterback Todd Bonheyo (10 rushes for 68 yards and three touchdowns) made the biggest runs on each drive. After faking a handoff to B.J. Flores (22 carries for 121 yards), Bonheyo ran around the left side and outran SU to the end zone to put the Bison up 7-0 at the 11:20 mark.

On their second drive, Bonheyo faked an inside handoff to Flores before pulling the ball back and running down the right side of his offensive line before cutting up field for a 31-yard run to the SU 1, which set up a Bonheyo keeper for a touchdown that made it 14-0 at the 7:50 mark.

Yoder said it’s one thing to watch on film and prepare for an offense like Gallaudet’s, but another to actually defend it.

“It was just disappointing to give up two drives like that,” Yoder said. “Credit to them, it definitely was the speed [of their offense that gave us problems]. It took us a while to get into the game — too long — defensively.”

SU held Gallaudet to 15 yards on its next three drives, but a perfect setup by No. 2 quarterback Quentin Williams put Gallaudet up 21-7 with 5:06 to go in the first half.

After taking the snap, Williams ran backward diagonally to his left and let the SU rush close in on him. But then he stopped and pivoted right, and he threw a screen pass over the top of the rush to Bonheyo’s brother Ryan (93 yards on 11 carries), who ran into the end zone untouched.

SU’s magic act went back to work to respond though.

Earlier, the Hornets’ first touchdown — a 3-yard touchdown run by sophomore Josh Wells with 4:49 left in the first quarter — was set up by freshman quarterback Justin Neff (19 of 26 for 219 yards and one touchdown), who completed a 37-yard pass to Sean Blackman down to the Gallaudet 25 on a fake punt. The uncovered Blackman stood and faced the sideline until the ball was snapped on the play.

On their second one, sophomore running back Andrew Smith (13 carries, 53 yards) caught a backward pass in the right flat from Neff before unleashing a pass of his own to freshman Qlyl Middeljin (six catches, 147 yards, one touchdown) for a 43-yard gain to the Gallaudet 25.

The drive stalled at the 27, but on a 45-yard field goal attempt holder Drew Ferguson stood up after taking the snap and fired a ball over the middle to freshman tight end Miles Green for a touchdown that made it 21-14 with 1:22 left in the first half.

But SU gave up a 10-play, 68-yard drive that lasted 4:46 to open the second half in which they got gashed by several inside runs to fall behind 28-14, and the Hornets’ next five drives netted just a total of 10 yards, which left them behind 31-14 when they started their final drive.

SU made some big plays here and there running and passing — Neff made two perfect throws of 38 and 24 yards to start the Hornets’ opening drive (in which they turned the ball over on downs at the Gallaudet 32) and second (which ended after two plays when Neff was sacked and fumbled at the Bison 39) — but the Hornets never got the consistency they needed.

“They’re pretty good on defense,” said Yoder of a Bison squad that yielded just 57 yards on 28 carries and had three sacks for a loss of 25 yards. “I liked our plan. I thought that we ran the ball effectively, but we just got caught behind the sticks and behind the situation. We had a couple penalties, and we pressed a little bit.

“We need to be more balanced. We made some big plays in the passing game, but we’re not going to turn into a pass-happy team. We’re going to be a balanced team, and tonight we had to throw the football a little more than maybe we would have liked.”

Smith said the Hornets are still getting used to running their new fast-paced spread/I-formation offense, and the expectation is that the team will open up the playbook more as the team gets more comfortable and the season develops.

Overall though, Smith said they need to execute at a higher level. Six of the Hornets’ drives were three plays or fewer.

“[Our] up-tempo kind of beat us a little bit,“ Smith said. “Going three-and-out that quickly then putting our defense back on the field when [the other] team just runs the ball a lot, that kind of screwed our defense a little bit.

“On offense, I think we need to take responsibility in making sure that if we’re going to be this up-tempo, we need to make sure we get first downs.”

The Millbrook graduate Neff played solidly in his debut, and he started 10 of the Hornets’ 13 series and played in 11 of them. Yoder said the plan was to have Neff quarterback the first two series and have Ferguson take the third, and then use the two quarterbacks going forward based on performance and the game’s situation.

“[Neff] was playing well,” Yoder said. “I don’t think either of them played poorly.”

Neff feels he came a long way in one game.

“I learned a lot tonight, and I’ve got a lot more to learn,” said Neff, who got his first career touchdown pass on a 16-yard strike to Middeljin with 34 seconds left. “It’s definitely something that’s starting to come easier to me just after one game. At the beginning of the game everything seemed so much faster than it did at the very end.”

The Hornets were led defensively by freshman linebacker Jason Hager (12 tackles) and sophomore linebacker Michael Messick (11). SU will hit the road to face Ferrum in non-conference action at 1 p.m. next Saturday.

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at  rniedzwiecki@winchesterstar.com

Follow on Twitter @WinStarSports1