Young players making key contributions for Hornets

WINCHESTER – Shenandoah University football coach Scott Yoder approached then-running back Michael Ashwell about moving to outside linebacker for the Hornets’ 2015 season. As Yoder said Wednesday afternoon, the sophomore “politely declined.”

With Shenandoah’s backfield loaded with talent, Ashwell instead shifted to wide receiver in an effort to see more game action. The move is finally paying off.

In Shenandoah’s last two games, Ashwell has caught 15 passes for 187 yards and two touchdowns, including a breakout performance in last Saturday’s loss to Guilford in which he tied the school record with 12 catches for 162 yards and a score.

“That’s what the coaches always say, when you get a shot just make plays and that’s what I’ve been doing,” Ashwell said Wednesday.

With just three career catches to his credit heading into Shenandoah’s ODAC opener against Bridgewater two weeks ago, Ashwell now ranks second in receptions (18) among a deep group of receivers that features five players with at least 12 catches in 2015.

“Everybody can make plays and every game it seems like we have a new number one receiver,” said Ashwell, who has 207 receiving yards this fall. “So it is challenging. It’s definitely hard to get everybody in but it also is great to have all those receivers because everybody’s fresh. We can have three plays and you’re out, and another person is in but you’re not losing that athlete.”

Ashwell’s opportunity arose with a shoulder injury to Hornets leading receiver Deshon Brown that kept him out of the Bridgewater contest. Ashwell got the start in Brown’s place and finished with three catches for 25 yards and a touchdown.

Brown’s return this past weekend pushed Ashwell back into a backup role against Guilford, although the pair rotated frequently in and out as Ashwell became a top target for freshman quarterback Hayden Bauserman against the Quakers. His longest catch of the game was a 58-yard reception in the second quarter that flipped field position on a play that began on SU’s own 5-yard line.

Ashwell also plays on every special teams unit for the Hornets, and he said the coaches estimated he played 110 snaps last week.

“We knew he’s a hard-nosed kid,” Yoder said. “He’s not a burner. He’s not a pure receiver yet but he’s just a good, hard-nosed football player that is coachable and understands the game. And you can see his production. I mean, he’s gritty, he makes the tough catches. There was a couple times two or three guys (were) hanging on his back and he’s making that play across the middle. That’s what we needed and he’s gotta continue to do that, and if he does he’ll get more opportunities.”

Ashwell wasn’t the only young player to make key contributions for the Hornets last week. Freshman running back Jalen Hudson stepped into a prominent role against Guilford following an injury to starting tailback Cedrick Delaney and finished with 12 carries for 112 yards and a touchdown.

“He’s explosive and you look at him, you think oh he’s not very big but he breaks tackles. He runs through tackles and his feet never stop,” Yoder said of Hudson, who averaged 9.8 yards per carry last week. “I mean, we recruited him for a reason and he played early for a reason and he’s in the rotation. It was great to see him have a breakout game. That’s what we need, guys to step up and he kind of answered that call.”

As a unit, Shenandoah’s offense put up school-record numbers in the 55-38 loss to Guilford, including total yards of offense (603) in a game. Bauserman also set new school records in pass completions (37), attempts (65) and passing yards (450).

DROPPING THE BALL: Though Shenandoah moved the ball well on offense against Guilford, the Hornets failed to capitalize on a couple of key red-zone opportunities.

Shenandoah had two drives reach at least the Guilford 15-yard line that ended without points, while SU also had to settle for a field goal early in the second quarter after reaching the 1-yard line. SU also missed a field goal after driving to the Guilford 23 early in the second half.

“Obviously we didn’t score as much as we could have,” Bauserman said. “We got into a lot of situations where we were down in the red zone and just didn’t come out with points, which is tough. Any time you move the ball down in the red zone you expect to get points. So I think that’s definitely something that’s a big emphasis this week, is not only moving the ball and getting into the red zone but also putting it into the end zone and scoring.”

Yoder said the Hornets (3-2, 0-2 ODAC) continued to be hurt by dropped passes in the loss. The head coach estimated that SU dropped four or five passes against Guilford and three “big ones,” including two potential touchdown catches that were mishandled.

Through Shenandoah’s first three games in 2015, Yoder said the Hornets had dropped 16 of the team’s 27 incompletions.

“Everybody out there has dropped a pass. … And they come back and they make the next play,” Yoder said. “But against good teams you don’t get a second chance. You don’t.”

Shenandoah also was stung by inconsistent special teams play last Saturday. The Hornets allowed a 92-yard kickoff return to Guilford in the closing minute of the first half after SU had cut the deficit to 10 points, and Shenandoah also lost a fumble on a kickoff return and was 1 for 3 on field goal attempts.

In the loss to Bridgewater two weeks ago, the Hornets had a punt blocked for a safety.

“We look at how much time we spend on special teams and make sure that we’re allocating enough to what we need to do, and we don’t do that just to be marginal or just to get by,” Yoder said. “So that’s let us down, and it’s not just one unit. I need to coach it better. We need to practice it better. We need to execute better.”

INJURY REPORT: Yoder said Delaney will be back on the field this weekend for Shenandoah’s 1 p.m. home game against Catholic University of America.

Delaney sat out the Guilford contest with a concussion that diagnosed late last week and has since cleared all of the necessary tests to return to game action, Yoder said. Delaney leads the conference with 121.5 yards rushing per game.

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