Hornets stumble at home to Tigers

WINCHESTER – Shenandoah University’s football team saw its four-game winning streak and its shot at an outright Old Dominion Athletic Conference title come to a halt Saturday afternoon.

Visiting Hampden-Sydney College staked an early lead and led by as much as 21 points while piling up 471 yards of offense behind a sudden outburst from a struggling running game, and Shenandoah’s comeback bid fell short when the Tigers fell on an onside kick in the final two minutes to clinch a 37-34 victory in front of a crowd of 1,147 at Shentel Stadium on the Hornets’ final home game of the season.

The loss, coupled with Randolph-Macon’s victory over Guilford, erased any shot SU had at claiming an outright conference title and a berth in the NCAA Division III playoffs.

“I told the team at the end of the game, honestly I think, without watching the film, I think we got what we deserved,” Hornets head coach Scott Yoder said. “I mean, I think we thought we were the better football team. I think we were the better football team and we didn’t show it and hats off to them because, with a depleted roster, with injuries, they did a good job moving the football.

“We should’ve been able to run effectively against them and (Hornets running back Cedrick Delaney) did not have a great day. They slowed us down. They took care of the football. They blocked a punt. And that’s the difference. You know, you lose by three and look at all those things that happened.”

Shenandoah (6-3, 4-2 ODAC) was out-gained by nearly 100 yards on offense (the Hornets finished with 377 yards) and struggled to establish a rushing attack for the second straight game, and a defense that had forced 15 turnovers over the previous three games failed to record a takeaway against a Hampden-Sydney (3-6, 3-3) squad that entered the game minus-18 in turnover margin.

The Tigers, who entered the game averaging an ODAC-worst 87.4 yards rushing per game, ran for 208 yards against SU. Hampden-Sydney junior running back Mike DeMasi finished the afternoon with 33 carries for 187 yards and two touchdowns and proved a tough man to bring down for the Hornets for most of the contest.

“We went back to not tackling as well and that kid was pulling for, I think he had 180 yards. Hats off to them. That’s the type of game it was gonna be,” Yoder said. “They have so much window dressing with different formations and motions and shifts and putting guys, and they kept us off-balance in the first half. And by the time we started to play our style of football we were just down by too much to go.”

The Hornets also had a punt blocked deep in their own territory early in the second half, which set up a 5-yard touchdown run for Tigers sophomore quarterback Alec Cobb that put Hampden-Sydney up by three touchdowns. H-SC head coach Marty Favret said it was the first blocked punt the Tigers have had in 12 seasons, and Yoder said the block, the result of a low snap that skipped across the turf, was the third punting miscue that has burned SU this season.

Trailing 34-13 in the third quarter, Shenandoah answered with a seven-play, 72-yard touchdown drive that ended when sophomore quarterback Hayden Bauserman dropped a perfect pass over a Tigers defender and into the hands of receiver Justin Ayres for a 32-yard touchdown strike.

SU cut the Tigers’ lead to 34-27 late in the third when Bauserman found Leonard Scott for a 70-yard pass down to the Hampden-Sydney 19-yard line, which set up a 14-yard touchdown pass to Michael Ashwell.

“I thought the key was when we started to get back into the game, we were hitting big plays downfield. … In the first half we didn’t hit those as much and I think that was the difference. I really do,” Yoder said. “I think they were determined to say if you beat us down the field, OK, and we didn’t hit those plays enough until the third quarter.”

Hampden-Sydney rode the legs of DeMasi on a pivotal drive in the fourth quarter. Beginning at their own 16-yard line, the Tigers used 20 plays to eat up 10 minutes and 3 seconds of clock before Jordan Chalkley connected on a 23-yard field goal to put H-SC up 37-27 with 2:32 left.

The drive included 15 rushing plays and a key conversion on a fourth-and-7 play from the SU 39 when Cobb hit freshman receiver Major Morgan for a 16-yard gain.

“Let’s face it, we weren’t slowing them down on the other side of the ball,” Favret said. “So I think for us to step up and, not ice the game, but certainly put it in a situation with a field goal being as good as a touchdown – some big conversions, held onto the ball, and … that fourth-down play was huge. Kind of fun, I haven’t been in that situation for a while.”

Shenandoah, out of timeouts, quickly countered when Jalen Hudson – who averaged 43.5 yards on four kick returns – took a lateral from linebacker Micheal Wroble on a squib kick and raced 53 yards down to the Hampden-Sydney 24 to set up a 7-yard touchdown pass from Bauserman to Ayres (four catches, 61 yards, 2 TDs) with 2:02 to play.

SU failed to recover the ensuing onside kick, effectively ending the Hornets’ comeback bid.

The Hornets found themselves trailing 14-0 early in the second quarter after a 24-yard touchdown pass from Cobb (who has thrown 17 interceptions this season but found a rhythm against the Hornets, completing 24 of 31 passes for 263 yards and a touchdown) before they finally found the end zone.

A 65-yard kickoff return by Hudson down to the Tigers’ 32 set up an eight-play scoring drive that ended with Delaney’s 3-yard touchdown run. The Hornets added a second touchdown in the final minute of the first half when Bauserman – who completed 21 of 40 passes for 311 yards, four touchdowns and an interception – found Qlyl Middelijn for a 4-yard score to send SU into halftime trailing 21-13.

Shenandoah finished with just 66 yards rushing – a number compounded by the fact that the Hornets were trailing for the entire game – against the ODAC’s worst rush defense and struggled to find a rhythm early against Hampden-Sydney in the first half.

The Hornets had a drive end on downs in the red zone early in the second quarter when Bauserman’s fourth-down pass to Scott sailed high and through his hands.

“I don’t even think it has to do with necessarily what they were doing defensively to kind of confuse us or anything like that. … I mean we kind of hurt ourselves more so than they hurt us,” Bauserman said. “I’m not taking anything away from Hampden-Sydney. They’re a really good football team, but I think we came out and we were ready for what they threw at us but we just kind of shot ourselves in the foot.”

Shenandoah returns to action on Saturday in a 1 p.m. road game at Washington and Lee to close the season.

“This is really disappointing, and you can tell,” Yoder said of the loss. “To have the opportunity that we had four hours ago and to be sitting here, it hurts, and I just told the team, a week from now we’re gonna be feeling a certain way too and let’s make it positive.”

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