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Saturday, October 21, 2023

THE #TEAM136 REPORT: Week 7: #10/11 Randolph-Macon 48, Shenandoah 13

There's no place like home.

At Homecoming 2023, Randolph-Macon College football took another step forward, registering an overall better performance than the one they presented a week ago on the road at Bridgewater.

Interestingly enough, the bottom line that matters most, the scoreboard, showed the Yellow Jackets won each game by 35 points, as Randolph-Macon handled the Hornets of Shenandoah Saturday afternoon 48-13.

There were no early turnovers to take advantage of, no 18 or 8-yard drives to help kick start the Randolph-Macon scoring. This week, it was a methodical 75-yard drive to open the contest, mixing up short Drew Campanale pass completions with classic Yellow Jacket rushing to take the early 7-0 lead, the nine play drive wrapped up by Nick Hale's eleventh touchdown run of the season from two yards out.

Whether to his left, right, or over the middle, Campanale's strong start helped the Yellow Jackets chew up nearly six minutes off the clock, the first step in seizing early control of the contest.

"They were pretty determined, I think, to not let us throw it downfield," Randolph-Macon head coach Pedro Arruza said. "They were going to stay back and not give us shots, so, you know, I think, okay, we're going to make you keep things underneath and rush the ball."

Shenandoah's first possession consisted of three incomplete passes and 23 seconds of elapsed time. The Yellow Jackets regained the ball, ran thirteen plays, drove 70 yards and scored on a Kwesi Clarke six-yard run for a 14-0 lead with 49 seconds left in the quarter. The Hornets promptly fumbled the ensuing kick return, with Randolph-Macon recovering at the Shenandoah 27 by Silas James.

Nick Hale ran for 14 yards to end the quarter. Nick Hale scored from 13 yards out to begin the second period. By the time Shenandoah quarterback Steven Hugney completed his first pass, it was Randolph-Macon 21, Shenandoah 0.

A usually balanced attack was forced into playing mostly over the air, though Hugney did use quick, short passes which worked as well as runs. The Hornets' most impressive drive took place in the second quarter, traveling 75 yards in 13 plays, capped by a three-yard score on the ground by the junior from Fairfax. The snap on the point after was dropped, keeping the score at 21-6.

Campanale completed the scoring, on the ground, as he rushed for a ten-yard score with a minute left, making the intermission margin 22 points at 28-6.

Clarke added a one-yard rushing touchdown in the third, while Campanale threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to JoJo Marinella on the first play of the fourth quarter. Mitchell Johnson (Powhatan) finished the scoring on a one-yard rush with 5:06 to play.

The Marinella score was the second part of a two-act play which unfolded as the third period ended. The veteran was not set correctly on a play, prompting a timeout by Arruza to correct the situation. It was easy to see it was a stern, one-sided, conversation. But what happened two plays later? You count on the senior to make a big play, stretching his arms to full extension to corral the ball and score. Marinella's body language was a great representation of what the Franklin, Massachusetts native has done during his time as a Yellow Jacket.

"We burned a timeout. That's going to cost us in a game that's closer," Arruza explained. "JoJo is a great player. He's our captain, he's our leader, I love the kid. The kid's gritty, tough. That kid has maxed out his ability. He's a guy who, there have more talented guys that have come through here, but that kid keeps competing."

High praise for a player who plays bigger than his 5'10", 179-pound frame. And he is the story of this Yellow Jacket program. Find young men who are coachable, who sacrifice personal accolades and set aside ego to pour everything the team, and the goals that are set for them.

That is how you become a program that expects to win conference championships year in and year out in a push to become a respected program at the national Division III level. 

But none of that matters if the Yellow Jackets fall in what is, to this point, by far and away their biggest test of the season, when Washington & Lee comes to Day Field next Saturday. The last time the Generals were here, it was a walk-off touchdown and two-point conversion with no time remaining, stunning the Yellow Jackets, costing them the 2021 Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) title. And, while history indicates that the 2023 edition of Generals football may have more struggles than their 2021 counterparts, they, no doubt, will present the biggest challenges to Randolph-Macon, especially defensively.

The triple option is coming to Ashland, and Arruza, his staff and players, look to be ready to accept that challenge, meet it, and, with a win next week, seize control of the conference heading into November.

The Generals are 4-0 in ODAC play, 6-1 overall, and have come from behind in the second half for wins over Averett, and, today, at Hampden-Sydney, scoring the final fourteen points for a 21-17 victory that sends the Tigers to 2-2 in conference play and effectively out of contention for the conference title.

Randolph-Macon is 4-0, 7-0. Will next Saturday be the de facto conference title game? Only time will tell. But the only thing that matters right now for Arruza, and his team, is getting ready for the Generals.

With Bridgewater's resounding win at Averett today, the Eagles are 3-1 in conference play, but lose the head-to-head battle with Randolph-Macon thanks to that 38-3 win last Saturday by the Yellow Jackets in a surprisingly sunny Shenandoah Valley. The Eagles will be rooting for the Generals next Saturday, because they travel to Lexington the following week, November 4th, with a chance to win and cause a three-way tie for first place entering the final week of the regular season.

Some statistics of note from today's game, and overall, which need to be pointed out.

--Randolph-Macon had 34 first downs in the game while Shenandoah had twelve. Twenty-one of those came on the ground. Total plays run were 80-45 in favor of the Yellow Jackets.

--The Yellow Jackets rushed 56 times (!) for 290 yards. Shenandoah carried the ball nine times for 31 yards, a 3.4 per carry average, higher than what Randolph-Macon had allowed entering the game (24.5 ypg).

--Nick Hale now has 542 rushing yards and twelve touchdowns. Kwesi Clarke has 385 yards and eleven scores. Mitchell Johnson has 366 yards and nine touchdowns, while Cameron Chatmon hit the 350-yard mark and, while he didn't score today, he has five rushing tallies of his own.

--Hale's two scores push him to fifth all-time in rushing touchdowns in Yellow Jacket history, now with 30, besting the 29 by Thaddeus Scruggs (2008-2011). His next touchdown would tied him with Eric Hoy (2015-2018) for fourth.

--Campanale went 14-of-18 for 165 yards and the touchdown to Marinella. He now has 3,604 career passing yards, surpassing Doug Toan (1969-1971) for eighth all-time. This is Drew's eighteen game with the Yellow Jackets.

--The defense gave up 280 total yards, 249 through the air, 86 of them on two passes on Shenandoah's final touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. 

--With a fumble recovery and a Coleton Payne interception, Randolph-Macon has now forced sixteen turnovers in ODAC play (four games). They entered the game second in Division III nationally in turnover margin at 2.50.

--Liban Farah of Shenandoah had an outstanding game with 13 solo tackles. Tony Skinner led Randolph-Macon with six tackles, four of them solo.

(File Photo)

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