Hornets expect physical contest

By Brad Fauber

WINCHESTER — One week after falling victim to Hampden-Sydney’s pass-heavy offensive attack, Shenandoah University’s defense must now completely shift gears for today’s 1 p.m. Old Dominion Athletic Conference contest.

The Hornets, coming off a 45-27 loss to H-SC a week ago, will look to rebound on the football field this afternoon against Randolph-Macon College, a team whose smash-mouth style starkly contrasts what Shenandoah had to defend against a week ago.

“What we’re gearing for is a very physical game,” Hornets head coach Scott Yoder said Wednesday. “You go from playing Hampden-Sydney, who’s spread, and finesse is probably the wrong word, but they want to throw it and they’re going to be a finesse offense, and Randolph-Macon is the exact opposite. They are ‘let’s make this as physical a contest as we can be on both sides of the ball.'”

Randolph-Macon (3-4, 1-3 ODAC) hasn’t lived up to its preseason expectations this fall (the Yellow Jackets were picked to finish second in the ODAC in the preseason coaches poll) but it does bring the conference’s third-best rushing offense to Shenandoah’s Shentel Stadium this afternoon.

The Yellow Jackets are averaging 225 rushing yards per game this season, and they do it by running right at opposing defenses.

“They are 100 percent power running,” SU senior linebacker Sean Blackman said. “They’re not going to try to spread you out. They’re not going to have a game plan for our defense. They’re just going to stick to what they know, which is run the ball 65, 70 percent of the time. What we want to do is get them out of that. We want them to have to throw the ball because we know that’s not their specialty and that’s not their game plan.”

Running back John Byrd, a 5-foot-11, 218-pound junior, leads Randolph-Macon’s rushing attack with 714 yards and six touchdowns on 136 carries. Senior quarterback Zac Naccarato, a four-year starter, has also rushed for 312 yards and six touchdowns while completing 85 of 152 passes for 1,109 yards, eight touchdowns and nine interceptions.

Naccarato’s favorite receiving target this season has been senior Mike Doe, who has hauled in 39 catches for 586 yards and four touchdowns.

Blackman said the Hornets’ defense — which allowed some big passing plays last week — is preparing for the Yellow Jackets to take some shots down the field via play-action, but Randolph-Macon’s offensive identity should remain behind the push of its offensive line, which is led by 2013 first-team all-ODAC selection Nate Turner and averages nearly 285 pounds among its five starters.

Today’s game should match strength against strength, however, as Shenandoah (4-3, 2-2) enters the contest with the ODAC’s top rushing defense. The Hornets are allowing only 126.1 yards on the ground this season.

“Their plan is to run it down our throats but our defense, we’re run stoppers so I think we’ve got them,” said Hornets junior linebacker Michael Messick, who leads SU with 71 tackles (41 solo).

“They’ve got a big line, a big o-line, and they just keep on moving,” he added. “They don’t slow down. It’s smash-mouth football. This week we’ve got to prepare mentally and physically [for this] to be the toughest game of the year.”

Shenandoah also presents one of the top rushing offenses in the ODAC, although the Hornets do it much differently than Randolph-Macon. Shenandoah has excelled in the read-option running game this season and is averaging 249.1 yards rushing per game, the second-best mark in the conference.

Sophomore Cedrick Delaney has emerged as a do-it-all running back for SU this season, as he’s rushed 125 times for 737 yards and five touchdowns while also catching 17 passes for 129 yards and a score. Junior running back Kye Hopkins has carried 98 times for 412 yards and eight touchdowns.

Senior quarterback Drew Ferguson (105 of 180 passing, 972 yards, 7 TDs, 5 interceptions) is also a threat in the running game, carrying 78 times for 340 yards and a touchdown.

The Hornets’ offense does enter today with some question marks, as injuries to offensive linemen Ivan Ayala (foot) and Phil Pascoe (knee) over the past two weeks have forced SU’s coaching staff to do some shuffling up front. Yoder said Wednesday that Ayala, who suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot two weeks ago, could possibly return today, although Yoder gave that likelihood no greater than a 40-percent chance on Wednesday.

The injuries have opened the door for freshman Travis Siever, a former Skyline High School standout, who likely could make his first collegiate start for the Hornets at right tackle this afternoon.

Shenandoah’s offensive line will face the tough task of fending off a physical Randolph-Macon defensive front that is led by senior lineman Tom Solak (33 tackles, 10 tackles for loss).

“Offensively we need to do some things to get our athletes in space because that’s where our advantage is,” Yoder said. “They want to play in a phone booth and we want to play in more space.”

Randolph-Macon has beaten Shenandoah each of the last five meetings, including a 42-7 rout last season. Ferguson said the Hornets will use that as a little extra motivation for redemption on SU’s senior day.

“We look at the history. We definitely remember last year and we’re definitely upset about that,” Ferguson said. “They’re not having the best season, so I don’t know what their confidence is going to be at but ours is at an all-time high. We’re going to go out there and show them how to play ball.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com