Hornets looking to rebound against Emory & Henry

WINCHESTER – Mired in a slide that has seen Shenandoah University’s football team lose four of five Old Dominion Athletic Conference games, Hornets coach Scott Yoder delivered a message to his seniors last Sunday.

The primary purpose of Yoder’s message was to convey just how far that group of players had pushed SU’s rebuilding program since their freshman season, but the third-year head coach also wanted to tell the Hornets what kind of opportunity they have over the final two weeks of the season.

SU (4-4, 1-4 ODAC) has a chance to end its streak of consecutive losing seasons at three with a victory in one of its final two home games, though the Hornets will need to do so against Emory & Henry (5-3, 3-2) and conference leader Washington and Lee (8-0).

“We have two teams coming in that are 13-3 combined and you can only beat one this weekend and that’s Emory & Henry, and they’re good and they got us last year,” Yoder said Wednesday. “… And I think they’re certainly disappointed in the last two weeks but as practice goes and as the week goes, we’ve had some good practices. I don’t know if you get over it but you look forward to the next challenge.”

That challenge begins with Saturday’s 1 p.m. kickoff at Shentel Stadium against Emory & Henry, a team that has won all three meetings with Shenandoah since the Hornets joined the ODAC in 2012, including last season’s 42-34 win in which the Wasps forced SU into seven turnovers.

For Shenandoah’s defense, Saturday’s matchup marks a return to the familiar spread offenses prevalent throughout the ODAC after the Hornets were run over by Randolph-Macon’s physical running game in last weekend’s 31-13 loss.

Emory & Henry’s offense enters the game right in the middle of the conference pack in most statistical categories, including scoring offense (30.4 points per game) and total offense (411.6 yards per game). Shenandoah’s defense – led by senior linebacker Michael Messick’s ODAC-leading 104 tackles – is allowing 36 points per game against conference competition, and the Hornets rank fourth in the ODAC in total defense (395.4 yards allowed per game).

Sophomore quarterback Kevin Saxton once again leads the Wasps’ offense this fall. He’s completed 152 of 282 passes (53.9 percent) for 1,908 yards, 14 touchdowns and four interceptions.

“He’s just really careful with the ball, makes good reads,” said Hornets sophomore free safety Cedrick Bridges, who has 49 tackles and one of SU’s nine interceptions in 2015.

“We’re just gonna have to force him to turn the ball over.”

Saxton has completed at least 28 passes to three different receivers through Emory & Henry’s first eight games, and freshman Tyree Ward leads the Wasps with 30 catches for 472 yards and seven touchdowns.

The Wasps have relied on the sophomore duo of Isaiah Rodgers and Chris Thompson in the running game. Rodgers has carried 92 times for 429 yards and five touchdowns, while Thompson has 82 carries for 376 yards and three scores.

Shenandoah ranks second in the ODAC in rush defense (165.4 yards allowed per game), although the Hornets have allowed more than 200 yards on the ground in each of their last two games.

Yoder said the Wasps, similar to many teams, rely heavily on offensive plays that give Emory & Henry a run/pass option on nearly every snap.

“They make it where you’re never right and that’s kind of a pain to play against, to be honest, but what we’ve gotta do is we’ve gotta take something away,” Yoder said. “We’ve gotta go take away the run game and make (Saxton) throw the football when he knows he has to and we know he has to.”

Shenandoah’s offense is coming off its worst statistical performance of the season in last week’s loss, as the Hornets were limited to just 244 yards, 226 below their season average entering the game. Hornets sophomore running back Cedrick Delaney was held to just 62 yards rushing last week, half of his average rushing output this season.

As it has all season, SU’s offense ranks in the top of half of the ODAC in most statistical categories, including scoring (third, 32.8 points per game) and total offense (fourth, 442.5 yards per game). Emory & Henry ranks second in the conference in scoring defense (23.2 points per game) and third in total defense (391.9 yards allowed per game). The Wasps are allowing 183.8 yards rushing this season – the third-worst mark in the ODAC – although Yoder said Emory & Henry led the conference in that category prior to surrendering more than 500 yards rushing in a loss to Washington and Lee last week.

In last season’s meeting between SU and Emory & Henry, Delaney ran for an ODAC record 321 yards.

“I’m pretty sure they’re gonna change some things up, probably put more people in the box,” said Delaney, who has carried 136 times for 834 yards and eight touchdowns. “Last year we basically ran up the middle a lot against them, so they’re probably gonna close the middle up a lot. I know some defenses they’re gonna run are gonna basically be the same as they were last year but … I know most of it’s gonna be to stop me.”

Yoder said the Wasps’ physicality makes their defensive front the “one that concerns me the most,” adding that the Hornets may have to “get creative” to get their players in space.

Emory & Henry leads the ODAC with 18 sacks – 14 different players have contributed to that total – and SU freshman quarterback Hayden Bauserman said the key to counteracting the pressure is to continue “being good at what we’re good at.”

“I think just continuing to do what we’ve done,” said Bauserman, who has thrown for 1,714 yards, 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. “Our offensive line’s experienced, they’ve seen this team before, they know what this team does. It’s nice being able to have them to lean on and know that they know they’ve seen them before and things like that.”

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