Hornets face tough road test against high-powered Guilford

WINCHESTER – The momentum Shenandoah University’s football team built up during its non-conference schedule didn’t carry over in last weekend’s Old Dominion Athletic Conference opener against Bridgewater. And things certainly don’t get any easier for the Hornets this afternoon.

SU travels to Greensboro, North Carolina, to take on high-powered Guilford College in today’s 1 p.m. contest looking to bounce back and even its record in ODAC play. The Quakers were the preseason conference favorite and features a roster Shenandoah head coach Scott Yoder called the “best in the ODAC” on Wednesday.

“Whether you win or you lose we tell (our players) you only get a little bit of time to either celebrate or feel sorry for yourself,” Yoder said. “Sunday we watched it and moved on and we’re knee-deep in Guilford. They obviously were ranked in the top 25 for a reason. … We’re gonna have to play well.”

Today marks the fourth lifetime meeting between the two schools since Shenandoah (3-1, 0-1) joined the ODAC in 2012, and Guilford (3-1, 0-1) holds a 2-1 advantage in the series, although SU upset the Quakers 47-31 last season.

The Quakers, who received Yoder’s vote as the preseason ODAC favorite, broke into the D3football.com Top 25 in Week 2 and dropped out this week after falling to Washington & Lee, 20-17, in their conference opener last weekend.

Despite the loss, Guilford is still averaging 51.8 points and 569 yards of offense per game this season, the latter of which ranks fifth in the nation. Shenandoah’s defense is allowing 22.3 points and 317.3 yards of offense – including 181 passing – per game, the second-best mark in the ODAC.

“I think the thing that we have to understand from a game plan, coaches and players, is you’re not gonna stop them on offense,” Yoder said. “You’ve gotta try to take something away and slow them down because you’re not gonna stop a team that’s scored 77 points (in the season opener against Greensboro College) already this year.”

Guilford senior quarterback Matt Pawlowski has picked up right where he left off in 2014, when he was named the conference’s offensive player of the year. In four games, Pawlowski has completed 67 of 96 passes (69.8 percent) for 1,086 yards, 15 touchdowns and no interceptions. He leads the nation in passing efficiency (216.4).

Shenandoah sophomore cornerback Josh White called Pawlowski “probably the best quarterback” in Division III football.

“For the defensive backs we’re being mentally focused,” said White, one of five Hornets with an interception in 2015. “We need to have our eyes right, making sure we read our keys, our back pedal, everything. … This game is more of a mental game than physical. We need to make sure our eyes and our heads are straight for this one.”

The Quakers have turned the ball over just once this season, a trend SU will attempt to change today by trying to make Pawlowski “uncomfortable,” Yoder said, adding that the Hornets have been looking hard at last season’s victory over Guilford. Though Pawlowski threw for 460 yards in that game, Shenandoah did force him to throw his first three interceptions of the season, two of which were returned for touchdowns.

The Hornets finished their 2014 win over the Quakers with eight sacks, and they have six in four games in 2014.

“When he does scramble, like we did last year, the pocket was condensed so when he did scramble we were right there to make the tackle,” said Hornets senior linebacker Michael Messick, who leads the team with 53 total tackles. “So we’re gonna try to do that this year.”

Pawlowski’s favorite target this season has been junior receiver Adam Smith, who has 29 catches for 502 yards and seven touchdowns. Yoder said Smith, who has caught three touchdown passes in a game twice this fall, is “as pure of a wide receiver as we will see.”

Quakers running back De’Eric Bell has 338 yards rushing and four touchdowns, and Messick said the Hornets’ goal is to “stop the run game and make them throw like we did last year.”

Shenandoah is coming off easily its most inconsistent offensive performance of the season in last week’s 39-21 loss to Bridgewater. Freshman quarterback Hayden Bauserman failed to find a rhythm for first time this fall, as he completed less than 50 percent of his passes and threw three costly interceptions.

Bauserman has completed 58 of 99 passes (58.6 percent) for 699 yards, eight touchdowns and five interceptions this season and has completed at least nine passes to five different receivers.

Hornets’ junior running back Cedrick Delaney, the ODAC’s 2014 rushing leader, has carried 82 times for 486 yards and six touchdowns in 2015, the best marks in the conference. He’s topped 100 yards in three straight games and has at least one rushing touchdown in each of SU’s four contests.

Guilford leads the ODAC in scoring defense (15.2 points per game) and rush defense (132.8 yards per game).

Last season, Shenandoah jumped out to a 22-0 lead against Guilford in the first quarter, and Yoder said the Hornets’ offense needs to “shake off” last week’s performance and “make the plays we know we can make.”

“I think the most important thing is for our offense to get back into right away,” Yoder said. “Now that doesn’t mean we’ve gotta go down and score on every drive. … Up until Saturday we were starting well in every game. We certainly want that but we also know it’s a long game either way. We’ve come back on the road to win this year and we know that they’re capable of coming back from any deficit, so you’re gonna have to play the full two and a half hours.”

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