Hornets set for Homecoming matchup with rival Eagles

WINCHESTER – Shenandoah University senior defensive end Jake Payne vividly remembers his first home game against longtime rival Bridgewater College during his sophomore season in 2013.

The Hornets won that game 29-20, snapping a four-game losing streak to the Eagles and giving Shenandoah its first-ever Old Dominion Athletic Conference victory. The game was one that Payne said he will never forget – it was his first home victory at SU – but the end result was just a part of what made that game special. The environment, Payne said Wednesday, is what struck him the most.

“Bridgewater had a bunch of people tailgating out there and just constantly talking trash just as we were walking by,” Payne said, recalling the Hornets’ traditional pre-game walk from Aikens Athletic Center to Shentel Stadium. “I just remember the environment of the game was so intense, so I love it.”

Payne and the Hornets get another chance to relive that rivalry tonight as Shenandoah (3-0) hosts Bridgewater (2-1) in a 7 p.m. Homecoming contest.

Tonight’s meeting marks the 18th between the two schools, with Bridgewater holding a 14-3 record over the Hornets during that span. The Eagles have won two of three meetings with SU since the Hornets joined the ODAC in 2012, including a 27-23 win last season. Six of the last seven matchups between the two schools have been decided by eight points or less.

Both teams are coming off a bye week heading into tonight’s game – the ODAC opener for both schools – and Shenandoah is seeking to extend its best start in program history against a Bridgewater squad that earned a share of the conference championship in 2014.

“We definitely want to come out and show the rest of the conference that we’re gonna compete for an ODAC title,” Hornets senior offensive guard Dustin Edwards said.

The Hornets enter the game averaging 41 points and 462.3 yards per contest from an offense led by freshman quarterback Hayden Bauserman (43 of 67, 559 yards, seven touchdowns, two interceptions) and junior running back Cedrick Delaney (54 carries, 375 yards, four touchdowns).

Shenandoah has been balanced (240.7 yards rushing, 221.7 yards passing per game) on offense but could see its play-calling shift more heavily toward the running game tonight with the anticipated rainy conditions.

“We know what we do good and we run the ball pretty well,” said Bauserman, who could be without leading receiver Deshon Brown, who is recovering from an AC joint sprain in his shoulder and will be a game-time decision. “Especially adding in the rain, (running the football) a big part of a game plan any week but it should probably be a little bit bigger this week.”

Bridgewater is allowing 300.7 yards rushing per game, an average ballooned by a 574-yard rushing performance by Gettysburg in the Eagles’ season opener.

Edwards said Bridgewater’s defense features some talented players in its front seven, and SU head coach Scott Yoder said senior defensive linemen Logan Whitaker and Nicholas Cawthon are the Eagles’ best defensive players. Edwards added that he’s unsure exactly what has led to the elevated rushing totals against Bridgewater’s defense (the Eagles also allowed 215 rushing yards to The Apprentice School two weeks ago), which is led by Clarke County graduate Davey Hardesty’s 24 total tackles.

“I know that they’ve been working on stopping the run all week and they’re gonna be a much improved team up front,” said Edwards, who helped pave the way for a 353-yard rushing performance in SU’s win over N.C. Wesleyan two weeks ago. “But you see that and it kind of gives you the edge, you want to run the ball a lot. But we’re gonna do whatever it takes to win. If we’ve got to throw the ball we’ll do that.”

Shenandoah’s defense has had no such struggles, as the Hornets rank second in the ODAC in scoring defense (16.7 points per game allowed) and third in total defense (309.7 yards per game). The Hornets have also forced six turnovers, including four interceptions.

The Eagles enter tonight’s game tied for last in the conference in scoring (27.3 points per game), and Bridgewater’s 350.7 yards-per-game average is seventh in the eight-team ODAC. The Eagles are also averaging only 99 yards rushing per game, the worst mark in the conference, and Yoder said Bridgewater doesn’t appear to be “as far along offensively as they have been in the past.”

“I don’t think that they are … running the football the way Bridgewater wants to run the football,” Yoder said. “They’re just not getting as much production as they want – and right now they’re turning the football over. That’s the difference in their game. And they’re still 2-1. So they’re still doing some things really well and if we can continue to take the football away – I don’t think we’re gonna stop the run game but if we can slow down the run game and make them try to beat us through the air then I think that the odds are gonna shift in our favor.”

Bridgewater is using two senior quarterbacks this season and Yoder said it appears as though the Eagles’ coaching staff tends to stick with whichever player is having success from game to game. Ross Rushing has completed 43 of 76 passes for 501 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions, while Matthew Pisarcik has completed 19 of 30 for 254 yards, one touchdown and two picks.

Eagles junior receiver Jeffrey Moore has 16 catches for 122 yards and is one of four players with at least 100 receiving yards for Bridgewater.

Payne said it will be important for the Hornets to make Bridgewater one-dimensional on offense, while Yoder added that special teams could play a pivotal role tonight.

“I think special teams is gonna be huge because they’re well coached in that area and then with the weather I think field position’s gonna be big,” Yoder said. “So that’s a real sticking point for us.”

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