Hornets aim to limit options for Gallaudet

By Brad Fauber

WINCHESTER — Shenandoah University junior defensive end Jake Payne has had tonight’s season opener at Gallaudet circled on his calendar for quite a while now. And that’s not just because it’s the Hornets’ first game of the 2014 season.

Payne and the rest of Shenandoah’s defense faces the daunting task of trying to slow down Gallaudet’s triple-option attack right out of the gate when the two teams square off in Washington, D.C. for the 7 p.m. contest.

Last season, SU didn’t fare very well against the Bison rushing attack as Gallaudet rolled up 390 yards rushing en route to a 31-20 win in Winchester. Payne is trying to make sure that the Hornets are a little better prepared for that option attack in year two under head coach Scott Yoder, which is why he began examining film of Gallaudet’s offense as early as spring practice.

“Last year we had a few blown assignments and that was what killed us. When you don’t do your job against a team like this, they will gash you and they will make the best of it. That’s what they do,” Payne said. “… I think this year we’re a lot more prepared. We’ve been doing it for a longer time. Last year during camp and stuff a lot of us were still trying to learn the defense. Now we all know the defense and we can focus more on Gallaudet.”

The Bison, who ran the option all the way to their first NCAA Division III playoff appearance last season, experienced some turnover on both sides of the ball during the offseason and could operate a little differently in their offense compared to what Shenandoah saw last season.

Junior quarterback Quentin Williams — the 2011 Eastern Collegiate Football Conference Rookie of the Year — has retaken the reins of Gallaudet’s offense this season after Todd Bonheyo led the Bison in 2013.

Williams — a battering ram of a runner at 5-foot-11, 249 pounds — is more physical than the agile Bonheyo, who was a dangerous running threat for the Bison outside of the tackles. Bonheyo scored three rushing touchdowns against the Hornets to help spoil Yoder’s Shenandoah coaching debut last season.

Yoder said he’s hoping the change of pace at quarterback might prove beneficial for a Hornets defense that was last in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference in rush yards allowed (231.3 yards per game) in 2013.

“He’s a really, really big physical presence kid,” Yoder said of Williams, who ran six times for 44 yards against the Hornets last year. “He looks like a defensive lineman, but can run the option well. … What I’m hoping [is what] they gain in a bigger quarterback running tighter to the line of scrimmage, I hope actually helps us in the fact that maybe our edge won’t be under such constant pressure all night long. But he’s also a kid that you can play well against him and he’s going to get 4 or 5 yards because he’s 245 pounds.”

Gallaudet’s offense returns four of the five starting linemen that paved the way for the fourth-best rushing attack in Division III last season, and Bison leading rusher B.J. Flores returns for his junior season.

Flores, a 5-foot-7, 205-pound fullback, rushed for 1,227 yards and five touchdowns last season.

“You look at him and he’s not going to jump out at you off the eyeball test, but he’s probably their best football player,” Yoder said of Flores. “… He’s going to get his touches and we’ve just got to make sure — he’s a kid that you have to wrap up and keep your feet moving because he breaks so many tackles.”

Shenandoah will try to get its own running game going against Gallaudet after failing to establish much on the ground against the Bison last season.

The Hornets, statistically the worst offense in the ODAC in 2013, mustered only 57 yards rushing against the Bison and 346 yards of total offense. Shenandoah’s running back combination of Cedrick Delaney, Kye Hopkins and Dalaun Richardson is largely inexperienced in the backfield at the varsity level, but Shenandoah does return nine starters from last year’s team, including all five linemen, all of its receivers and senior quarterback Drew Ferguson.

“We’ve changed some blocking schemes, changed the offense up a little bit from last year. This week we’ve been going against their defense and we’ll see how plays develop against that kind of defense. It’s been very successful,” Ferguson said.

“[The Bison] run an odd front and they run an odd stack. That’s the two defenses I believe we’re expecting,” he added. “Just a bunch of different coverages. It’s nothing that we haven’t seen before. Hampden-Sydney last year ran odd stack and we did well against them. As long as we execute our plays, we’ll be fine.”

Gallaudet’s defense allowed 16.5 points and 264.5 yards per game last season but will have some holes to fill this fall, particularly along the defensive line. All-ECFC defensive end Tyler Snider (team-high 6.5 sacks last season) returns for the Bison, and Jaris Alleyne (91 tackles) leads a linebacker group that Yoder called the team’s greatest strength.

“They like to bring edge pressure. Those linebackers, they like to make it look like one’s coming and then bring another one, sometimes two to a side. And they’re really looking, like most defenses are, to create a negative play,” Yoder said. “… I think because Drew is in his second year and because we’re a little bit better experienced, hopefully we can see those things and get out of a bad play and maybe take advantage of some of their aggressiveness blitzing.

“The other thing that we’ve already looked at is they had a deep NCAA playoff run and they lost some guys up front, so we looked at a couple things we think they might do to cover up for some really good players that they’re going to miss from last year. We’re just trying to be proactive and put our guys in position to be successful.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or bfauber@nvdaily.com