Hornets take on rival Eagles in ODAC opener

By Brad Fauber

WINCHESTER — Shenandoah University’s football team has plenty of reasons to be anxious to hit the field for tonight’s game against Bridgewater.

The game marks the opening of the Old Dominion Athletic Conference schedule for the Hornets, and it comes against a longtime rival in the Eagles. Shenandoah, which is coming off a bye, hasn’t played in two weeks. And the 7 p.m. kickoff at Bridgewater’s Jopson Field marks the final time in the regular season that the Hornets will play under the lights.

It’s safe to say the Hornets aren’t short on motivation, but head coach Scott Yoder has taken on the challenge of trying to rein in those emotions somewhat over the course of this week.

“What we try to preach to them is it’s not about a rivalry. It’s not about Bridgewater. It’s not about a night game. It’s not about any of that. It’s about who can execute better,” Yoder said. “If we go out and we execute on offense, defense and special teams, it’s going to be a great night for Shenandoah. If we don’t, if we let the emotions of the game [get to us] or we take stupid penalties or we get behind the chains because we make bad plays, then it’s not going to be a good night for us.”

Shenandoah’s first win against ODAC competition came against Bridgewater last season, a full year after the Hornets joined the league in 2012. The Eagles have dominated the overall series and hold a 13-3 all-time record against SU, but Shenandoah’s 29-20 win last year was the largest margin of victory by either school in the last six meetings.

The Hornets are off to a rare 2-1 start this season after running through Ferrum on Sept. 20. Shenandoah set a new school record for offensive yards (552) in the win, and finished with 420 rushing yards (four yards shy of another school record).

Sophomore Cedrick Delaney leads the Hornets’ three-man running back rotation with 44 carries for 312 yards and a touchdown this season. Senior quarterback Drew Ferguson has also rushed for 217 yards and a touchdown and passed for 373 yards and three scores.

Shenandoah’s high-tempo offense thrived in the read-option against Ferrum, and Ferguson stressed the importance of asserting that push against a Bridgewater defense that leads the ODAC in sacks (13) and tackles for loss (34).

“A very disciplined defense, very good at tackling and they will fly to the ball,” Ferguson said. “They lead the ODAC in sacks and TFLs, so they know what they’re doing up front.

“We need to get the run game established. That’s the key for any success.”

Shenandoah’s offense is averaging 416.3 yards and 25 points per game this season, and leads the conference in rushing (284.3 yards per game). Bridgewater is third in the ODAC in total defense (307.7 yards per game) and rush defense (117.3 yards per game).

Yoder praised the play of the Eagles’ front four, where defensive linemen J.P. Utz (3.5 sacks) and Kenneth Szabo (3 sacks) lead the way and sit at the top of the conference in sacks.

Bridgewater (3-0) defensive back Darrick Gore — a first-team all-ODAC selection last season — is also coming off a game where he intercepted two passes and recovered a fumble in a win over Apprentice School last week, and Yoder said Shenandoah’s offense needs to know where he is on the field at all times.

“They are playing a lot of guys up front, but they are just moving and angling and slanting and just flying to the football. Good things happen when you play like that,” Yoder said. “I’m impressed with their front four. From what I’ve seen on film, they all can play. They get off the ball well and they’re creating negative plays.”

Shenandoah’s defense has been stout this season as well, as the Hornets lead the conference in total defense (251.7 yards per game) and scoring defense (13.3 points per game).

Bridgewater’s offense has relied heavily on the pass in its first three games, and the Eagles’ offense has been using a two-quarterback rotation with juniors Matthew Pisarcik and Ross Rushing.

Yoder said he expects Pisarcik — who has completed 46 of 73 passes for 538 yards and seven touchdowns — to start tonight, but Rushing (18 of 41, 289 yards, 3 TDs) has seen his share of playing time so far this season. Both quarterbacks are similar in style, Yoder said, which has helped simplify the Hornets’ defensive preparation for the possibility of seeing both quarterbacks.

The Eagles’ top two receiving targets — Cliff Woodard (11 catches, 235 yards, 5 TDs) and Jeffrey Moore (16 catches, 109 yards, 1 TD) — will be the primary focus for Shenandoah’s defense, which got two interceptions from defensive back Josh White against Ferrum.

“I think every game that I’ve seen they’ve gotten behind the defense and they’ve made big plays, and they can do that. We can’t allow that to happen,” Yoder said. “If we can take away their big plays and make them earn everything, I like our chances.”

Yoder also stressed the importance of containing dynamic senior return specialist Jordan Hartman.

Hartman, a Millbrook grad, is averaging 21.9 yards per punt return and 24.1 yards per kickoff return for the Eagles this season and leads the ODAC in both categories.

“That’s two first downs every time he touches the football,” Yoder said. “… We have to make sure he doesn’t change the game. That’s what we have to do. And that’s kicking the ball away from him, but also he’s going to field it. He’s back there for a reason. We have to do a great job on our coverage units because he change the game.”

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