WINCHESTER — Shenandoah University head football coach Scott Yoder said on a few different occasions in the preseason that there was no plan in place to use quarterbacks Ben Agostino and Ben Rhodenizer in a scheduled rotation. The Hornets didn’t use a true rotation in last weekend’s season-opening win at North Carolina Wesleyan, but both QBs saw extended action.
Rhodenizer, a sophomore, made his first collegiate start last week and played most of the first half before giving way late in the second quarter to the junior Agostino, who finished out — with the exception of one second-half drive — the 35-19 win.
Yoder and offensive coordinator Stan Hodgin repeatedly stated how close the competition was at quarterback in the weeks leading up to the opener, and last weekend’s debut reflected that. It also could be a sneak peek of how SU will use its quarterbacks for the entirety of 2019.
“We knew they both were gonna play, it was just a matter of the right time to get [Agostino] in,” Yoder said on Wednesday. “You can nitpick over it or you can say it was the right time, wrong time, but we wanted to get him in and we thought they both did a good job. They’re both gonna play moving forward.”
The roles are reversed this week as Agostino, who spent the last two seasons as Shenandoah’s backup quarterback, will make his first college start on Saturday night against Bridgewater.
Yoder quipped on Wednesday that Chapter 3 of the Hornets’ quarterback saga would take place next week, suggesting the starting job could be a weekly evaluation throughout the season.
The quarterbacks themselves sound like they’re taking the situation in stride.
“It’s different,” Rhodenizer said. “It’s obviously not what probably either of us did in high school, but it is kind of a week-to-week thing and it’s kind of a feel thing. Obviously I'm a little bit more mobile, he’s more of a pocket passer, so it’s game planning — what the defense does, what the defense is better at, what area we can kind of strike at to better ourselves as an offense. But I like the competition. Obviously it wasn’t ‘you’re the starter for 10 games no matter what.’ Depending on play it’s gonna sway back and forth, but I think on Saturday we showed that we can both do it, we can both do it well.”
In his first collegiate action, Rhodenizer completed 13 of 19 passes for 72 yards, was sacked twice and threw an interception on Shenandoah’s second drive of the game. He also led SU with 79 yards rushing on eight carries, including a 50-yard scamper that set up the Hornets’ first touchdown of the game.
Rhodenizer quarterbacked a second TD drive in the second quarter before passing the baton to Agostino, who led a scoring drive late in the first half and two more touchdown drives in the fourth quarter to help Shenandoah turn a slim 21-19 lead into a 35-19 victory.
Agostino completed 19 of 28 passes for 182 yards and a touchdown in the win. He said on Wednesday that if SU’s coaching staff had planned ahead of time to get him extended action against N.C. Wesleyan, he wasn’t made aware of it.
“I think they both can throw the ball exceptionally well. I thought on Saturday in North Carolina, Agostino threw it better than Rhodey threw it,” Yoder said. “He came in and he hit Casey [Stewart] on a couple nice ones down the sideline. I felt like in the third quarter in that game, they were doing some stuff to slow down our run and we needed to get our vertical passing game going, so we went with Ben Agostino. That doesn’t mean Rhodey can’t throw it down the field.”
Yoder went on to downplay Shenandoah’s two-quarterback system, saying that each player brings something different to the offense and that it’s no different than the Hornets’ rotations at other position groups (which SU does quite frequently).
To get the most out of its quarterback situation, Shenandoah needs both QBs to stay invested in the competition each and every week. Both players said they plan to.
“You just have to keep in mind that the coaches are doing what’s best for the team,” Agostino said, “so you have to be ready to perform your best for the team no matter if you’re angry if you got pulled or whatever. You have to keep a good mindset and say ‘I'm gonna be ready for my chance.’”
“Personally even in practice, you practice how you play and that whole cliche, but in games on Saturdays and Tuesday practice, Wednesday practice, any time that I'm not in I'm sitting right there ready,” Rhodenizer said. “You’re a couple snaps away from going in. It might be for good, it might be for a drive or two drives. It’s all just kind of a feel thing. As a competitor I really enjoy something continuing to push me and having someone to push back.”
Agostino added that he doesn’t picture the situation as a competition between him and his teammate.
“Most importantly the focus has got to be on the opponent,” Agostino said. “At the end of the day I'm not competing against Rhodey, I'm competing against ODAC teams. Every week I've got to go in and prepare for everything, prepare for every play as if I was the starter. I’ve been doing that the past two years as a backup, but now it’s real.”
There are obvious benefits of such a close competition at the sport’s most important position.
“The harder that Ben and I work and the harder we push each other and the better we both continue to get — I've talked with coaches and they said if you can make it a hard choice for us, that means that our program is in very good hands,” Rhodenizer said.
“Playing quarterback, everyone looks at you whether they mean to or not. When they see us working harder and us pushing on each other, then that kind of reflects to the whole offense.”