Hornets aim to take care of business against Tigers

WINCHESTER – Shenandoah University’s football team is riding a four-game winning streak and is enjoying its best season since joining the Old Dominion Athletic Conference in 2012. But one thing didn’t quite go the Hornets’ way last week.

Randolph-Macon, which beat SU in its conference opener earlier this season, toppled previous conference unbeaten Washington and Lee (which the Hornets take on in the regular season finale next week) last Saturday to create a three-way tie for the ODAC lead. Winning out no longer guarantees Shenandoah its first conference championship since winning back-to-back USA South titles in 2003 and 2004 – the Hornets also need Randolph-Macon to lose at least one of its last two regular season games.

Needing outside help is not an ideal situation for any team but Shenandoah head coach Scott Yoder stressed to the Hornets this week to “control what you can control” as SU prepares to host Hampden-Sydney in a noon kickoff today at Shentel Stadium, Shenandoah’s final home game of 2016.

“It’s impossible to say don’t worry about it because the kids are thinking about it. They’re talking about it, people are asking about it, and it’s a great thing,” Yoder said Wednesday of SU’s conference championship possibilities.

“To win eight games you’ve gotta win seven first, so let’s go take care of number seven and Hampden-Sydney’s a big one. But it’s – how do you shut it out? I mean it’s a great thing. For kids to be excited and for there to be an opportunity for you to do something is fantastic, and let’s just take care of business.”

For Shenandoah (6-2, 4-1 ODAC), that means handling a Hampden-Sydney (2-6, 2-3) team that, on paper, the Hornets should be favored to beat.

The Tigers, losers of two straight, bring the conference’s worst defense into Winchester – they’re allowing 37 points and 477.4 yards of offense per game this season – while Hampden-Sydney’s one-sided offense (the Tigers are last in rushing at just 87.4 yards per game) ranks seventh (of eight teams) in the conference in points per game (24.5) and sixth in total offense (373.2 yards).

Hampden-Sydney also sports an ODAC-worst minus-18 turnover margin, providing an enticing matchup for an opportunistic Shenandoah defense that has forced 15 turnovers over the last three games and is dominating the conference with a plus-14 turnover margin.

Tigers sophomore quarterback Alec Cobb, thrust into a starting role after senior Edgar Moore went down with an injury in the season opener, has thrown 17 interceptions this fall.

“I think what we’ve gotta do is play very good Shenandoah defense,” said Yoder, whose team has snagged eight interceptions as part of its 24 takeaways this season. “We need to tackle. We need to take the ball away, which we’ve been able to do. When (Cobb) puts the ball up there in a 50-50 we’ve gotta get it. I think he’s gonna give us some opportunities but we also have to create those. We’ve gotta harass him and not let him feel comfortable and make him be under some pressure at times and make some tough throws, and take advantage of it.”

Despite Cobb’s issues with ball security, the sophomore is still quarterbacking the conference’s second-best passing offense (285.9 yards per game). He’s completed 58.4 percent of his passes for 1,977 yards and 16 touchdowns, including 13 combined to receivers Owen Costello (643 yards receiving) and Cam Johnson (499 yards), the second- and fourth-leading receivers in the ODAC, respectively.

Yoder said the Tigers thrive with creative plays on offense with the intent being to get the “matchups that they want.”

“They will give us problems. I’m telling you right now, they will move the football on us,” said Yoder, whose defense ranks third in the ODAC in scoring (24.9 points allowed) and pass defense (199.6 yards allowed). “Can we do what we’ve done for the last two months, which is play well in critical situations? If we do that we’re gonna be fine.”

Shenandoah’s offense, conversely, has had no such trouble with ball security during its winning streak. Sophomore quarterback Hayden Bauserman hasn’t thrown an interception over the last three games (he’s attempted 112 consecutive passes without a pick), and the Hornets have lost just 10 turnovers all season, the fewest in the conference.

Hampden-Sydney’s defense has only one interception this year but Bauserman, who has completed 61.5 percent of his passes for 1,985 yards, 19 touchdowns and six interceptions while throwing to a very deep receiving corps, said the Hornets are not taking the Tigers lightly after needing to rally in the second half to beat a three-win Catholic University of America team last week.

“Regardless of the numbers and regardless of the records, we learned last week that anybody in the ODAC can beat anybody so we’re gonna come out and kind of just focus on us and take it one game at a time,” said Bauserman, who became SU’s all-time passing leader last week and leads the ODAC in touchdown passes this season.

The Hornets struggled to get a running game going on the legs of senior running back Cedrick Delaney (744 yards rushing, 323 yards receiving, 12 total TDs) last week, as the Hornets mustered only 56 yards on the ground against Catholic, but SU should have a favorable matchup today against a Hampden-Sydney defense allowing 274.9 yards rushing, the worst mark in the conference.

Yoder said that while the Tigers have traditionally run a 3-3 stack defensively, they have shown a tendency to vary their defensive schemes from week-to-week defending on the opponent.

“What scares me is their ability to come up with something new that we haven’t seen yet that might give us fits,” Yoder said.

“Just the fact that they’re not having a lot of success and they’re playing a different style of defense almost every game, we’re not sure what we’re gonna get and we can’t waste a quarter or two quarters trying to figure that out because they are pretty good on offense and they’re gonna give us fits. We feel like we can execute but we’ve gotta be ready for them to throw everything at us because they’ve got nothing to lose.”

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