Hornets, Bison set to open season for third straight year

WINCHESTER – Shenandoah University’s football team should be pretty familiar with Gallaudet when the two teams meet in today’s season opener for the third straight season. Then again, maybe not.

Under head coach Chuck Goldstein, Gallaudet has been known for its triple-option offense, although Hornets head coach Scott Yoder said Wednesday the “word on the street” is that the Bison could be shaking things up when it comes to its offensive game plan this fall as Stephon Healey takes over as the team’s offensive coordinator.

“We’re ready for everything,” said Yoder, whose team starts its 2015 season under the lights for a 7 p.m. start at Shentel Stadium. “I think the option’s still a big part of who they are, the type of personnel they have. I think their best player on offense is B.J. Flores, the running back, so I think he’s gonna get it. But I think they might throw it a little bit more and they might be (in) a couple different formations that we haven’t seen in the past.”

Preparing for the triple option – a scheme used sparingly across all levels of football – has traditionally been a challenging task for opposing defenses. Add in the fact that the Bison could expand the option concept to include multiple formations and Yoder, who also serves as Shenandoah’s defensive coordinator, said preparation for Gallaudet has been “pretty much miserable.”

Yoder said from the information he’s gathered that Gallaudet may be using more pistol formations this fall instead of having the quarterback taking snaps under center.

“It hasn’t been a fun week as far as no, we don’t know exactly what we’re going to get and that scares you,” Yoder said.

The Hornets don’t expect Gallaudet, which features 18 freshmen in its two-deep, to stray too far from its option principles – Yoder still expects the Bison to use cut blocks and motion to put an extra blocker at the point of attack on running plays – due in large part to the return of Flores, a senior who Yoder says is the team’s best player, and an experienced offensive line.

Last season, Flores led the Bison in carries (107), rushing yards (462) and touchdowns (3) despite being limited to six games due to injury. In the 2014 season opener in Washington, D.C., the 5-foot-7, 180-pound Flores carried 18 times for 62 yards against the Hornets.

“He’s definitely their strongest suit,” said Hornets senior inside linebacker Michael Messick, who had 117 tackles to lead SU last season. “We stop him and stop their quarterback, we’ll be good.”

The Hornets are prepared to see multiple quarterbacks – a position at Gallaudet now coached by Stonewall Jackson High School grad and former coach Patrick Smoot – although freshman Ramon Johnson is listed atop the depth chart heading into today.

In last year’s meeting, Shenandoah shut down Gallaudet’s triple option, limiting the Bison to just 114 total yards of offense in a 20-0 victory. The Hornets return 10 players who started at least two games on defense last season – including 2014 first team all-Old Dominion Athletic Conference defensive end Jake Payne – and Messick said they’ve learned plenty about defending the option over their last two meetings with the Bison.

“You’ve got to control the C gaps,” Messick said, referring to the gaps to the outside of the offensive tackles. “You control C gap to C gap and we’ll be set. We want to make them throw the ball.”

Offensively, Shenandoah returns plenty of experience around freshman quarterback Hayden Bauserman, who will be making his first collegiate start.

The Hornets, who enjoyed a balanced rushing attack against Gallaudet last season, return 2014 ODAC rushing leader Cedrick Delaney as just one of the many key pieces brought back from a squad that was second in the conference in rushing (248 yards per game) in 2014.

The Bison, coming off a 2-7 season, have a new defensive coordinator this season in Vince Brown, who served as the team’s linebackers coach the last two years, but the Hornets don’t expect Gallaudet to deviate much from its traditionally aggressive style of defense that features a lot of blitzing.

“They’re a real good defensive team,” said Delaney, who rushed for 1,239 yards and eight touchdowns last fall. “They all fly to the ball. That’s probably one of teams that really does that that we play against. That’s the biggest thing, and they know what they’re doing. … They know how to really play football. They hit hard. All of them are real focused.”

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