Hornets look to end season on positive note

WINCHESTER — Shenandoah University’s season finale at Washington and Lee this afternoon is an important football game for the Hornets on several levels.

The Hornets are currently mired in a three-game losing streak, a stretch that erased SU’s chances of obtaining its first winning season since 2011. A win today would mean a 5-5 finish and a .500 season, and most importantly would help provide some extra validation to the on-field improvements SU has experienced in head coach Scott Yoder’s second season a year after finishing 4-6 in 2013.

“It’s really important, not only just to obviously get a win because we’ve been on a three-game losing streak, but I think the way I look at it is this game really defines if the season was a success just based off improvement,” Hornets junior defensive end Jake Payne said Wednesday. “… I know 5-5 is only a one-game difference from 4-6, but [then] we broke even and it still is an improvement. You always want to see it going forward and not backwards.”

The Hornets (4-5, 2-4 Old Dominion Athletic Conference) ended last season with a home win over the Generals and would like to repeat that history again on the road today against a Washington and Lee squad that has struggled to a 1-8 record in 2014.

The Generals’ (1-5 ODAC) lone conference victory this season came on Oct. 18 in a 28-25 win over Randolph-Macon, a team that ran over Shenandoah in a 47-23 rout two weeks ago.

Washington and Lee, the third option-based offense the Hornets will face this season, boasts the ODAC’s top rushing offense, averaging 282.7 yards on the ground per contest.

Shenandoah’s defense — the second-best unit in the conference against the run (155 yards per game) — played well in its two previous games against option teams. The Hornets held both Gallaudet and Ferrum well below their rushing averages in the two wins, and Yoder likened Washington and Lee’s spread-option attack to that of the more traditional flexbone look SU saw against Gallaudet.

Shenandoah hasn’t faced the option since Week 3, but Yoder said the Hornets’ success against Gallaudet (they held the Bison to 69 yards rushing in the shutout victory) in the season opener is enough to instill some confidence in SU’s defensive unit.

“It’s easy for our kids to go back and say ‘hey, this is just like Gallaudet when we did “X,“‘ and that’s a huge thing,” Yoder said.

The Generals are led offensively by 2013 ODAC Rookie of the Year Matt Hollerith, a sophomore running back who has carried 159 times for 641 yards and six touchdowns this season.

Sophomore quarterback Charlie Nelson has carried 135 times for 587 yards and five touchdowns for the Generals while completing 60 of 138 passes (43.5 percent) for 752 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions.

“What’s holding Washington and Lee back right now is they’re turning the football over,” Yoder said. “I think what goes into our game plan is make them earn it the whole way. Play field position. Don’t give them a short field. Don’t give them a big play. When we play well defensively they won’t be able to consistently drive the length of the field on us. But it does scare you. Option football, one missed step, one slip, one bad read is usually a huge play and that’s scary.”

Shenandoah’s offense, the second-best rushing unit (261.1 yards per game) in the ODAC behind Washington and Lee, is coming off a record-setting performance in which the Hornets ran for 442 yards in last week’s 42-34 loss to Emory & Henry.

Hornets sophomore running back Cedrick Delaney did most of the damage for SU, carrying the ball 41 times for 321 yards and three touchdowns, the highest single-game individual rushing total in school and conference history.

Washington and Lee enters today’s finale with the fourth-best rushing defense in the ODAC, as the Generals are allowing 169.2 yards per game on the ground.

“The game within the game is if you look at their stats, they make a point to not let the run beat them,” Yoder said. “… Even if you commit and stay with it you’re not going to run them out of the gym by running the football. I think it goes back to a consistent theme for us in the last couple weeks, is you have to make enough plays on the perimeter to make sure they can’t commit everybody to the box. … If they just clog it up and it gets nine-on-nine in there it’s going to be a long day for us.”

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