Basketball teams aren’t the only ones practicing their rebounds at Randolph-Macon College.
Coming off their first ODAC loss a week earlier at Guilford, the Yellow Jackets football team needed a full week of rebounding, a week to learn from their loss, turn negatives into positives, and come away with a victory last Saturday over Shenandoah at Day Field.
The Hornets came to Ashland after pulling off the upset in Farmville, handing Hampden-Sydney its first conference loss of 2013. But no one in Ashland took the Hornets lightly, and the final score reflected that.
In a performance that highlighted all phases of the Jackets’ game, Randolph-Macon improved to 6-2 (4-1 ODAC) with a convincing 42-7 victory.
After three quarters, Randolph-Macon’s defense had held Shenandoah’s offense to zero points and only 124 yards of total offense. But this wasn’t their best effort, according to head coach Pedro Arruza.
“I wouldn’t say that. We played well, we made some big stops,” Arruza said. “One concern that I had going into halftime was that we had, really, four possessions, two legitimate possessions. I told the guys at halftime you have to give us the opportunity to get the ball back.”
Part of the reason why the score was 14-0 Jackets at halftime was the limited number of possessions for each team in a fast-moving game. When this happens, a team being outplayed can take advantage of their few offensive possessions, while holding the team in charge away from points just a couple of times. Then, suddenly, the lead can change hands.
This was exactly what Arruza feared when he made his halftime plea. It was heard loud and clear.
The Jackets sent the Hornets’ offense packing after three plays on the first possession of the second half, then proceeded on a 67-yard drive, highlighted by a 50-yard strike from quarterback Zac Naccarato to wideout Christian Cook to the Shenandoah 2-yard line. Two plays later, John Byrd busted in from a yard out to up the Macon lead to 21-0.
The defense held Shenandoah again to a three and out, highlighted by a big third-down sack of Hornets starting quarterback Drew Ferguson, an Atlee High graduate, by Tom Solak (Mills Godwin). The Jackets took over and spent the remainder of the third quarter driving down the field.
Mike Doe made an athletic play for a reception to midfield. Naccarato scrambled for 8 yards. Senior Greg Petrohovich spelled Naccarato at quarterback for a few plays, advancing the ball to the Shenandoah 30 on a 12-yard run. But the drive stalled, and Randolph-Macon faced fourth down and 3 at the Hornets’ 23. Arruza rolled the dice and was rewarded as Naccarato fired the ball over the middle to a sliding Cook for a 9-yard completion and a first down to end the quarter.
The first play of the fourth saw Naccarato find an open Matt Williamson in the end zone from 14 yards out for a 28-0 lead, much to the delight of the Ashland fans packing the stands at Day Field.
The Jackets found the end zone once more, as Petrohovich, on the ensuing drive, found freshman Jake Connolly of Deep Run down the far sideline for a 58-yard touchdown pass.
For the first time since early in the season, the running of Will McGhee was not a major offensive factor. The senior rushed 18 times for 64 yards and the opening touchdown. His backfield mate, John Byrd, rushed 18 times as well, for 72 yards and two scores.
Naccarato finished the day 13-of-14 for 198 yards and two touchdowns. Most importantly, the Jackets didn’t commit a turnover, and won the time of possession battle by a full 10 minutes.
But the rebounding, the responding necessary by the Jackets to put that 28-21 loss to the Quakers behind them didn’t happen magically. As the week progressed, Arruza discovered how he had to manage his team so they could be mentally prepared to perform the way they did against Shenandoah.
“I felt like we were feeling a little sorry for ourselves,” Arruza recalled. “But once we got over that, we had a better day on Thursday.”
In a rare moment, Randolph-Macon fans took a few seconds to cheer the success of Hampden-Sydney, when it was announced at Day Field that the Tigers were well on their way to handing Guilford its first ODAC loss (the final score was 52-0 Hampden-Sydney). This placed Randolph-Macon back into a first place tie in the conference with two weeks remaining.
The Jackets would like to own one over Hampden-Sydney, but there’s no time to think about “The Game” in Ashland Nov. 16.
Ahead of Randolph-Macon is a Saturday trip into the valley to face the Bridgewater Eagles, 1-4 in the ODAC, 4-4 overall. Regardless of their record, and the fact Randolph-Macon has won four of the last five meetings between the schools, the seniors remember their first game against the Eagles, a 31-26 loss in Ashland that ended the 2010 team’s chances at an ODAC title.