Hornets jump on Quakers early in win
By Brad Fauber
WINCHESTER — It was just the start Shenandoah University needed.
Hornets freshman Dieon DuPont took the opening kickoff back for a touchdown against visiting Guilford on Saturday afternoon, and the tone was instantly set for Shenandoah. The Hornets built a sizable lead early, then held off the previously unbeaten Quakers for a 47-31 Old Dominion Athletic Conference victory.
Guilford entered Saturday’s game averaging nearly 48 points and 541 yards per contest, but it was the Hornets who erupted early.
DuPont fielded the opening kickoff on the left hash at the Hornets’ 8-yard line, worked his way towards the middle of the field and followed a wall of blockers all the way to the end zone untouched for the 92-yard return touchdown. Building off that momentum, the Hornets offense scored on its first two possessions to give Shenandoah a 22-0 lead less than 10 minutes into the game.
“It definitely calms the nerves a little bit seeing a kick return do that at the start of the game,” Hornets senior quarterback Drew Ferguson said. “It got us hyped up as a team and we knew that we could beat this team, just from that one play, which is really what we needed to kick-start that game.”
Special teams and a quick-hitting offense gave Shenandoah (3-2, 1-1 ODAC) the early lead, but it was the Hornets’ defensive effort against Guilford’s conference-leading offense that made the difference on Saturday.
Shenandoah pressured Quakers junior quarterback Matt Pawlowski all afternoon, sacking him eight times and forcing the junior into three interceptions.
In Guilford’s first four games, Pawlowski was sacked a total of four times and did not throw an interception while throwing 19 touchdowns.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever been a part of a defensive game plan that the kids executed at a higher level,” Hornets head coach/defensive coordinator Scott Yoder said. “Our defensive line got [Pawlowski] uncomfortable and off of his spot. And our coverage was good. But at times when things were even still open, we had him where he was, he wasn’t flustered, but he was moving and couldn’t make the throws he wanted to make.”
Pawlowski, who had gone 242 consecutive pass attempts without throwing a pick dating back to last season, threw his first interception of the season on Guilford’s opening drive of the second half. And it was a costly one.
Shenandoah freshman cornerback Josh White jumped a deep out route, snagged the ball out of the air and raced down the sideline to the end zone for a 35-yard touchdown that extended the Hornets’ 25-10 halftime lead to a 32-10 advantage.
“Coach Yoder, he preached that play all week. He told me if they run this specific route, we should be able to jump it,” said White, who now has four interceptions in the last three games. “I saw [the receiver] ran out and I just jumped it. Coach Yoder really basically called it.”
Shenandoah intercepted Pawlowski twice more in the second half, as linebacker Malik Sims notched his first pick of the season to halt a Guilford drive at SU’s 5-yard line late in the third quarter and defensive back Cedrick Bridges returned an interception 52 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the game.
“I think the pressure was getting to him. I think that’s all it was,” Quakers head coach Chris Rusiewicz said of Pawlowski, who completed 24 of 43 passes for 460 yards and three touchdowns. “As soon as he felt that heat, he got of the pocket, he knew he had to get rid of the ball a little bit faster than he probably wanted it to and he was just throwing it after that, unfortunately.”
Yoder said the Hornets defense didn’t get too complex with its pressure, as most of the heat put on Pawlowski came via SU’s four-man pass rush. Yoder said Shenandoah’s defensive line “won this game for us defensively.”
Junior defensive tackle Brandon Thompson led Shenandoah with three sacks in the win, while defensive ends Jake Payne and Ian Griffin each had 1.5 sacks.
Payne said the Hornets were able to make Guilford one-dimensional, as the Quakers (61 yards rushing) had to rely heavily on its vaunted passing attack while trailing the entire game.
“We know that passing situations we’re going to get pressure,” said Payne, who had nine tackles, including 2.5 for loss. “I played a lot more inside today just to get in his face and help put pressure on [Pawlowski]. We were just working with a lot of stuff, different stunts, who was going to be a spy on him at times.”
Guilford, which mustered just 169 yards of offense in the first half, demonstrated just how powerful its passing game can be in the second half. Pawlowski threw for 354 yards over the final two quarters and connected on touchdown passes of 21 and 64 yards to junior receiver Adam Smith (five catches, 149 yards), as well as a 14-yard scoring toss to Hayden Read. But the Quakers (4-1, 1-1) never trailed by fewer than two scores after Shenandoah’s scoring outburst in the first quarter.
Pawlowski’s 64-yard strike to Smith did cut Shenandoah’s lead to 41-31 with 2:04 left to play, but Hornets cornerback Weldon Gilchrist Jr. stopped Smith short of the goal line on the two-point conversion attempt to keep SU’s lead at 10 points.
The Hornets gained 350 yards (199 yards rushing) offensively and were held to less than 200 yards rushing for the first time since the season opener, but Shenandoah hit on several big plays and sustained enough momentum to keep Guilford’s offense on the sideline.
Shenandoah marched right down the field on its first possession of the first quarter, as the 69-yard drive was capped by Kye Hopkins’ 1-yard plunge. The Hornets came right back on their second possession and moved 64 yards to the end zone on seven plays.
The Hornets generated some big running plays on read-options out on the edge on several different occasions, including Cedrick Delaney’s (18 carries, 118 yards) 24-yard touchdown run that put SU up 22-0 in the first quarter.
“Based on how they were lined up, the inside pressure they were giving, the edge was definitely a strong point for the run game,” said Ferguson, who completed 12 of 19 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown. “Almost every single play they were bringing both backers, and if they weren’t they were crashing hard to the run. So that’s why we did a lot of outside runs, but we still did a lot of inside runs to keep them honest.”
Guilford got on the board with a 39-yard field goal by Tyler Hunt, and a 1-yard touchdown run by Josh Jurgevich cut Shenandoah’s lead to 22-10 early in the second quarter.
Ferguson connected with freshman Leonard Scott for a 67-yard touchdown pass — a juggling catch that was one of several spectacular grabs made by Hornets receivers in the win — that gave Shenandoah a 38-10 lead with 10:21 left in the third quarter.
“Them able to get first downs and establish the run and hit some big pass plays, it just fed into the whole game plan and honestly it worked exactly the way that we wanted it to,” Yoder said of SU’s offensive performance. “It rarely goes like that for a lot of reasons but it was great to see.”
Jacob Newton hit field goals of 44 and 37 yards for Shenandoah and is a perfect 7-for-7 on the season.
Sims had 10 tackles to lead Shenandoah’s defense.
Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org