Hornets face big challenge against W&L in season finale

WINCHESTER – Shenandoah University’s football team is mired in a three-game losing streak and is tied for the worst record in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference, but the Hornets still have something to play for in this weekend’s season finale.

SU hosts Washington and Lee, ranked 17th in the D3football.com poll, in a 1 p.m. kickoff Saturday at Shentel Stadium, giving the Hornets a chance to knock off a top 25 opponent on senior day while simultaneously ending the school’s losing-season streak at three and avoiding a third straight 4-6 season under head coach Scott Yoder.

“You’re always looking to get better, no matter what it is,” Hornets senior defensive end Jake Payne said Wednesday. “Three years in a row being 4-6, that’s not very satisfying. For us (seniors), we’ve been together for four years now and it’s kind of like … we didn’t put four years of work in to be 4-6 again.”

Washington and Lee (9-0, 6-0 ODAC) presents arguably Shenandoah’s (4-5, 1-5) greatest challenge this season, as the Generals bring the best rushing attack in Division III and the ODAC’s top scoring defense to Winchester Saturday afternoon.

Riding head coach Scott Abell’s triple-option attack, Washington and Lee is averaging 443.9 rushing yards and 40.2 points per game, and the Generals have scored at least 42 points in each of their last three contests. Four different Generals have rushed for at least 500 yards, while eight players have scored at least three rushing touchdowns.

Junior running back Connor Chess leads Washington and Lee with 757 yards rushing and nine touchdowns, while junior Marshall Hollerith has 716 yards and 11 scores. Junior quarterback Charlie Nelson has rushed for 617 yards and six touchdowns for the Generals.

Shenandoah’s defense, led by senior Michael Messick’s 118 tackles, has struggled since beginning ODAC play, and the Hornets rank seventh in scoring defense (31.6 points allowed per game) and sixth in total defense (421.6 yards allowed per game). SU, which is allowing 180.4 yards rushing per game, has surrendered over 200 yards on the ground in each of the last three games – including 301 yards last week against Emory & Henry – and has allowed at least 30 points in five of its six conference games.

Yoder said he expects Saturday’s game to be a “chess match” between W&L’s offense and the Hornets’ defense.

“Can we slow down some of their base things is the key,” Yoder said. “And then can you make some big stops? Can you get them off the field? Can you create a turnover or two that can keep you in the game and/or change the game? That’s the key. They’ll go for it on fourth down a lot. Right now fourth-and-3 for them is almost automatic. But if you stop them it’s a turnover. So there’s a formula to beat them and everybody probably knows it and it hasn’t worked for 10 weeks.”

Shenandoah boasts the ODAC’s third-best rushing attack, averaging 179.1 yards on the ground per game, although the Hornets have struggled to establish a consistent running game over the last two weeks. Junior running back Cedrick Delaney, who is second in the conference with 915 yards on 162 carries, was held to 62 and 81 yards rushing in the last two games.

Led by freshman quarterback Hayden Bauserman (1,933 passing yards, 18 touchdowns, 13 interceptions), Shenandoah is fourth in the ODAC in scoring offense (31.4 points per game) and fifth in total offense (427.6 yards per game).

Washington and Lee is holding opponents to just 22 points per game and boasts the ODAC’s second-best rush defense (166.7 yards per game). Yoder said the Generals’ defensive success begins with their front four, which has been “creating havoc” in the backfield.

“Teams that have been able to have any type of offensive success have just been tremendously patient and just taking the 4 yards here, the 5 yards here and then been able to make a play somewhere,” Yoder said. “So we’re gonna have to be smart and we’re gonna have to hit a couple big plays.”

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