Prior to the Shenandoah University football team’s season opener on Feb. 27, Hornets head coach Scott Yoder said “we’re really guessing” when it came to preparing for Bridgewater College.
The Hornets and Eagles might not be joined at the hip, but it’s safe to say a lot of the mystery is gone.
When Bridgewater (2-2) visits Shenandoah (1-3) at Shentel Stadium at 5 p.m. today, it will be their third meeting in five weeks.
The Eagles won that opener — a matchup that was created when SU’s game with Washington and Lee was canceled — 27-21 at Bridgewater’s Jopson Athletic Complex. The two teams met again last week in their regularly scheduled game in Bridgewater, with the Hornets winning 19-18.
The Old Dominion Athletic Conference created a tournament situation to give teams a chance to play an extra game at the conclusion of the regular season, and so now the two teams are meeting again as a result of SU and BC earning the ODAC’s No. 5 and No. 6 seeds, respectively.
Yoder would have preferred to avoid the rarely (if ever) seen college football rubber match, but he’ll take it.
“I don’t think I could have ever conceived of playing a team three times in five weeks, let alone twice in eight days,” Yoder said. “But we’re happy to be playing. If you would have said to us in January that you’re going to get to play five [games], then I think we all would have taken it with all the unknowns.”
With each week, SU gets to learn a little more about what it’s made of, and last week’s victory showed a lot about its determination and ability to handle adversity.
The Hornets won despite having a minus-three turnover differential —three of their five turnovers came inside the BC 20 — and rallied from behind twice in the fourth quarter. SU’s winning touchdown — which was a Brant Butler seven-yard reception on a pass from Chris Sonnenberg — came with just 32 seconds remaining in the game.
“I was really proud of our team and the effort that we gave,” Yoder said. “With the challenges that we’ve faced this year, I was really proud of how they prepared and just their resiliency in game. There was a lot of back-and-forth in that game. For our guys to just hang tough and have the opportunity to win at the end, I’m really happy for them and excited for what that can do for our program.”
Yoder thought the offensive line played its most complete game as part of an SU performance that features zero sacks and three negative plays. The Hornets had three interceptions (two by Sonnenberg, who completed 24 of 34 passes for 261 yards in his first start) and two fumbles, but strong efficiency on first and second down helped the Hornets convert 10 of 12 third down situations.
“Chris gets the ball out on time and executes our offense,” Yoder said. “I think he’d like to have a couple [passes] back from Friday night. For us to be operating at the high efficiency that we want and need to, the quarterback play is going to have to steadily improve, which it has. The best thing Chris is done is he gets the ball out on time and doesn’t hold on to the ball, and that helps us not take negative plays.”
Rashadeen Byrd recorded 23 carries for 77 yards and two TDs for a Hornets rushing attack that has improved significantly since the first two weeks. Yoder said the SU will need to continue to be effective through the air and ground this week and be prepared for whatever adjustments Bridgewater makes.
“We need to stay balanced offensively,” Yoder said. “I rewatched the game [Wednesday] morning, and I thought early on, those third-down conversions the first two drives were huge. They kept us on the field, got us more momentum, got us more snaps, got us more snaps, got us into a rhythm, and kept their offense off the field.”
A Hornets defense that had yielded 35 points and 416.3 yards per game had its best scoring and yardage (340) performance of the season while also recording two takeaways.
Yoder was pleased with how the Hornets limited Bridgewater running back Jalepes, who had 18 carries for 67 yards. Jalepes had 21 carries for 95 yards in the first matchup. Bridgewater continued to use two quarterbacks last week, with Matt Lawton (21 of 31 for 202 yards, one TD and one interception, seven carries for 16 yards and two TDs) getting most of the work.
The main thing Yoder wants his players to know is that they shouldn’t be satisfied with last week’s win, because the Hornets’ performance wasn’t a complete one.
“If we can find a way to be just a little bit better and take care of the football, then we’re going to be all right,” Yoder said.