Hornets focused on keeping momentum against Cardinals

WINCHESTER – For the first time since joining the Old Dominion Athletic Conference in 2012, Shenandoah University’s football team finds itself in the thick of a conference title hunt.

The Hornets trail only Washington and Lee and Randolph-Macon in the ODAC standings with three games remaining in the regular season, and they have a chance to take yet another step toward the top of the heap when they travel to Washington, D.C. to take on Catholic at 1 p.m. this afternoon.

SU, which has won three straight games overall and each of the last two meetings against Catholic, will take on a team that has yet to win a game this month, although the Hornets have been careful this week not to overlook the struggling Cardinals as they seek to lock up their first winning season since 2011.

“They can beat anybody on any given Saturday,” Hornets sophomore quarterback Hayden Bauserman said Wednesday. “It’s not a game that you can look past regardless of records or stats or anything like that. You’re gonna have to play 60 minutes and play your best football.”

Catholic (3-4, 0-4 ODAC) has lost its last four games – all in conference play – since opening the season 3-0. The Cardinals have been searching for stability at quarterback and have turned the football over 18 times, the second-worst mark in the ODAC, although they have given a few of the conference’s top teams a scare over the last month.

The Cardinals held a late lead against conference leader Washington and Lee on Oct. 8 before giving up a game-winning field goal with less than two minutes remaining in a 23-22 loss. The next week they rallied from a 27-point deficit to Hampden-Sydney before falling 33-28, and last week they were locked in a scoreless tie with Randolph-Macon at halftime before the Yellow Jackets pulled away for a 21-0 win.

“I’m gonna be honest with you, they have the formula to beat us,” Hornets head coach Scott Yoder said, “and their formula has been the last couple years short, controlled passing game, get five guys out in the route, control the ball. If you don’t tackle well they’re gonna make a bigger play, but don’t let a pass rush just tee off on you. That’s what they did last year and they moved the football up and down the field against us.”

Catholic’s offense will feature some different personnel than the unit that accounted for 446 yards in Shenandoah’s 34-17 win in Winchester last season. Gone is former quarterback T.J. Tutone, who was second in the ODAC in passing as a senior last season, and freshman quarterback Alejandro Ros (46.5 percent completion rate, 818 yards, three touchdowns, four interceptions) has taken the reins of the Cardinals’ offense over the last three games in lieu of junior Jorge Pola, who began the season as Catholic’s starter.

Yoder said he also expects the Cardinals to be without standout senior receiver Lucas Morley, who led Division III in receptions last season, after he suffered an apparent knee injury three weeks ago.

Shenandoah’s defense has forced 11 turnovers over the last two games while the Cardinals are minus-10 in turnover margin, although Yoder said he expects Catholic’s offense – which is last in scoring (20.3 points) and seventh in total offense (343.1 yards) – to try to take advantage of the Hornets’ inexperience at inside linebacker, where freshman Tyler Williams will make his second career start.

“I think they’re gonna look out there at young inside linebackers who are playing their first game last week (and) starting, and I think they’re gonna say let’s go pick on those guys. And you look at what Karsten (Miller) from Guilford was able to do, I think it makes a lot of sense,” said Yoder, referring to the Guilford QB who threw for 332 yards and two touchdowns against SU last week before leaving the game in the third quarter.

“We’re gonna have to understand what they’re trying to do. We’re gonna have to tackle, which is something we haven’t done very well the last three weeks.”

Offensively, the Hornets have continued to thrive behind a rejuvenated running game that is averaging 220.7 yards over the last three games. Last week, senior running back Cedrick Delaney became Shenandoah’s all-time leading rusher with a 205-yard performance against Guilford, and he now has 1,004 yards of offense (720 rushing, 284 receiving) and 10 total touchdowns this fall.

SU’s offense is averaging 33 points per game – the third-best mark in the ODAC – while the Cardinals are allowing 29.4 points (fifth in ODAC) and have the worst pass defense in the conference (263.6 yards allowed per game).

Bauserman, who has completed 60.6 percent of his passes for 1,708 yards, 17 touchdowns and six interceptions this season and is 130 yards shy of breaking the school’s career passing mark, said Catholic will feature an odd-man front atypical of most ODAC defenses.

“I think it’s a little bit different because there’s different gaps that are open compared to what we normally do so kind of changes up the schemes a little bit but not too much,” Bauserman said. “Obviously in a passing situation they have more guys in coverage when there’s three men down because there’s an extra guy somewhere else.”

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