SU football notebook: Hornets stressing focus during newfound success

WINCHESTER – Three games remain in the regular season for Shenandoah University’s football team and the Hornets find themselves in some largely unfamiliar territory.

SU’s 33-28 win at home over Guilford last weekend – one that head coach Scott Yoder called one of the biggest wins for the program in his four-year tenure – bumped the Hornets over the four-win threshold for the first time since 2011, and they are now 3-1 in conference play for the first time since that same season, when Shenandoah was a member of the USA South.

Suddenly a Hornets squad that hasn’t won more than three games in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference since joining the league in 2012 is on the cusp of its first winning season in five years and finds itself in the heart of the race for the conference crown.

“There’s obviously a lot of excitement around the program and everything like that, a lot of excitement from us as a team,” Hornets sophomore quarterback Hayden Bauserman said Wednesday. “Obviously getting past that four-win mark was the big kind of monkey on everybody’s back that everybody was kind of focusing in on, but we still kind of wanted to get not only past that but we knew we could compete for an ODAC championship. I think that’s definitely the next step, is these next three games taking it one game at a time and see how it turns out in the end.”

Maintaining that game-by-game focus has been the message from SU’s coaching staff this week.

Heading into this Saturday’s road game at Catholic in Washington, D.C., the Hornets (5-2 overall) trail only Washington and Lee (5-2, 4-0 ODAC) and Randolph-Macon (6-1, 3-1) in the ODAC standings. Those two teams meet this weekend, and a potential conference championship matchup in Lexington looms on Nov. 12 should Washington and Lee and Shenandoah each win their next two games.

Bauserman acknowledged the opportunity for some SU players to look ahead to that matchup with W&L in three weeks but insisted the Hornets are taking the success in stride and keeping the focus on a game-by-game basis. Yoder added that the coaching staff is ensuring the Hornets don’t become complacent.

“We haven’t even come close to accomplishing what we want to accomplish,” Yoder said.

“Are we thrilled to be 5-2? There’s no doubt about it. And not only that, I think we’re playing pretty well … so that makes it even more exciting. But to think that we feel good and we’re OK with five wins because we have won more than last year is just not acceptable. So let’s play as well as we can and see what happens in the next couple weeks.”

TIMING IS EVERYTHING: Shenandoah’s defense surrendered 565 yards to Guilford in the win last week and yet still managed to come up with timely stops and turnovers in what has become a trend for that unit in recent weeks.

In four ODAC games SU is allowing nearly 470 yards to opposing offenses. In addition to the win over Guilford, the Hornets also emerged victorious over Emory & Henry despite surrendering 649 yards.

“The way I look at it is we’ve got a bend but don’t break (defense),” senior linebacker Micheal Wroble said. “We might give up some yards but when it counts we’ve gotta dig our cleats in and start playing. A lot of those turnovers come at good times in the game, big turning moments, so we just keep getting after it, trust the plan and keep going.”

The ability to create turnovers has proved a valuable asset for SU’s defense over the last two weeks. The Hornets forced two inside the red zone against Bridgewater on Oct. 15 and had six takeaways – five in the second half – against Guilford.

Shenandoah, which has forced 11 turnovers over the last two weeks, is now plus-10 in turnover margin on the season.

“I think the biggest thing is everybody’s just getting to the ball, hustling,” Wroble said. “A lot of those are hustle plays, you know, from d-linemen coming back to receivers and hitting them from behind and getting turnovers to corners coming up and hitting running backs and getting turnovers.”

RUNNING GAME RESURGENCE: The Hornets’ woes in the running game are now a distant memory after three straight weeks of solid rushing production. Shenandoah netted 212 rushing yards last week to mark the second straight 200-yard performance for the Hornets, who are averaging 220.7 yards on the ground over their last three games.

Senior running back Cedrick Delaney, who became the school’s all-time leading rusher after a 205-yard performance against Guilford, is averaging 172 yards on the ground over the last three weeks behind an offensive line that has continued to gel after breaking in four new starters this season.

“I think now that they’ve gotten a little experience under their belts, guys aren’t missing assignments, guys are blocking to the whistle and kind of have that nasty streak about them,” Bauserman said of the offensive line.

ANOTHER RECORD BREAKER: After watching Delaney break SU’s rushing record last week, Bauserman will have a shot to claim another school-best passing mark of his own at Catholic.

Bauserman, who already holds Shenandoah’s best career marks in pass completions (337) and passing touchdowns (38), needs just 130 yards to break the all-time passing mark set by Daniel Wright, who played from 2008-2011.

“It’s a pretty cool experience to be able to come into a college-type situation and break a lot of records early on,” said Bauserman, who holds multiple passing records at Central High School in Woodstock. “But … it’s a team game and I couldn’t do it without anybody else on the this team. And it feels a lot better coming when we’re 5-2 and have a chance to compete for an ODAC title.”

Bauserman, who has thrown for 1,708 yards and 17 touchdowns this fall, is also on pace to break Wright’s single-season records in passing yards (2,371) and touchdowns (23).

INJURY REPORT: Yoder said freshman inside linebacker Steven Gebhardt, who did not play last week, has been ruled out for this weekend’s game at Catholic after having surgery to repair a torn ligament in his thumb on Monday.

Gebhardt, who was filling in for the injured senior Cody Miller (dislocated elbow), originally suffered the injury at Bridgewater, Yoder said, and could return to action against Hampden-Sydney next week.

TIME CHANGE: Shenandoah announced Tuesday that its final home game of the regular season on Nov. 5 against Hampden-Sydney has been moved up to a noon kickoff. The game was originally scheduled for 1 p.m.

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