Hornets eager to start ‘new season’ in ODAC play

By Brad Fauber

WINCHESTER — Shenandoah University is three games into its 2014 season, but the most important games are just beginning for the Hornets.

SU takes on longtime rival Bridgewater at the Eagles’ Jopson Field at 7 p.m. Saturday night, officially marking the start of the Hornets’ Old Dominion Athletic Conference slate.

“It’s not like we didn’t take those first three games seriously, but those were preparation games for the ODAC because this is what we’ve all been practicing for and preparing for and getting ready for,” Hornets senior linebacker Sean Blackman said Wednesday. “It’s just a huge part of the season. It’s basically the start of a new season in a sense, so that’s how we’re treating it. We’re going in 0-0 and we’re going to try to prepare for it and come out 1-0 after Saturday.”

Shenandoah is off to a rare 2-1 start this season after running over Ferrum, 45-20, on Sept. 20. SU gained a school record 552 yards of offense in the rout, including 420 yards rushing.

The Hornets had a scheduled bye week last week, and head coach Scott Yoder said the SU coaching staff had hoped to keep the team’s mentality similar to what it had been during the first three weeks. But Yoder said he noticed quickly in practice that the Hornets were more motivated than usual for Saturday’s ODAC opener.

Yoder said the Hornets’ players were ready to play on Tuesday and the coaching staff had to “slow them down.”

“Our kids know that the ODAC is the most important thing,” Yoder said. “… In a way you love this week because you don’t have to worry about pushing the kids. If anything, you’ve got to worry about pulling the reins back in.”

In last year’s meeting, Shenandoah snapped a four-game losing streak to Bridgewater with a 29-20 victory at Shentel Stadium. It was the Hornets’ first win against ODAC competition since joining the conference in 2012.

Though the rivalry game between the two schools has been dominated by Bridgewater — the Eagles are 13-3 all-time against Shenandoah — the last six meetings have been decided by nine points or less.

“It’s always a big game and it’s a prideful game,” Blackman said. “… We beat them last year and just to have that edge over them is something big. They take that to heart. Even though both of our seasons didn’t go the way we wanted them to [last year], it was an even worse season for them because they lost to us, and it was a little better season because we beat them. I know they’re going to be having a chip on their shoulder, as well as us because we’re still the underdogs against them. That’s going to be a pretty fun game to be in.”

TIME TO REGROUP: Shenandoah used the bye week to rest some players who were battling some minor injuries, while also taking advantage of the extra week to fix some areas that needed extra attention.

Yoder said the Hornets’ defense worked on improving some things in pass coverage and tackling technique ahead of facing Bridgewater’s pass-happy offense on Saturday, while the offense concentrated on refocusing mentally to cut back on the little mistakes — mainly penalties — that have hurt SU so far, according to senior quarterback Drew Ferguson.

“It was almost like starting from the beginning. It was definitely a good week that we needed,” Ferguson said.

But while Yoder said the bye week came at a good time and gave the Hornets some needed rest, he added that he felt like the Hornets have had “too much” time off.

Ferguson agreed that the long layoff has produced added anticipation among SU’s players.

“It gives us a little more time to look at [Bridgewater’s] defense and the way they schematically do things, but it also gives us [the mentality that] we’re ready to play when the time comes, because two weeks off is a long time away from hitting somebody,” Ferguson said.

INJURY UPDATE: Shenandoah used last week’s bye to get healthy, but junior wide receiver Brandon Adams is still not where he needs to be in his recovery from a lower leg contusion that he suffered during a preseason scrimmage at Gettysburg back on Aug. 30.

Adams, one of the two offensive captains for the Hornets this season, hasn’t played since the injury occurred, and Yoder had initially hoped to get him back in time for Saturday’s game at Bridgewater. Yoder said Adams is still considered week-to-week and will not dress out in pads this weekend.

“He ran [Tuesday], still has some pain with running and from what I’ve talked about with the medical people, until that pain is gone he is not an option. He is not an option at Bridgewater,” Yoder said.

“This isn’t an injury that he can just play through. He’s an athletic-skill, cut-and-stop-on-a-dime kid and if he has pain jogging we’ve got a problem. We’ve just got to be smart with it. I know he’s disappointed, but hopefully he can get better soon.”

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