SU football notebook: Hornets still playing for more than pride against Generals

WINCHESTER – Shenandoah University’s football team saw its shot at an outright Old Dominion Athletic Conference championship and an NCAA Division III playoff berth take a serious hit when the Hornets stumbled at home in a 37-34 loss to Hampden-Sydney last Saturday.

Now SU (6-3, 4-2 ODAC) is seeking to rebound in its regular season finale this weekend on the road at Washington and Lee (5-4, 4-2) in a game that just two weeks ago appeared to be shaping up as a possible showdown for a conference title.

“It’s tough, especially being a senior, one game left, to kind of slip away. I mean it’s not completely out of the question now. We still have a chance, but to kind of let it slip away in a game we know we could’ve won, should’ve won, and we just didn’t execute,” Hornets senior defensive tackle Jake Shaffer said Wednesday. “You know, it’s tough to manage. A couple guys were crying on the field after the game. It was senior day. But you know, it’s gonna be our legacy if we go 7-3 or 6-4. That’s how we’re gonna leave it.”

As it stands Shenandoah is playing for more than just bragging rights against the suddenly slumping Generals, last season’s ODAC champion. A victory would give the Hornets their first seven-win season since 2004 and could clinch them at least a share of the conference title (Randolph-Macon, the current ODAC leader at 5-1 in conference play, beat SU earlier this season and owns the head-to-head tiebreaker for the outright title).

Most importantly, an SU win coupled with a Randolph-Macon loss to Hampden-Sydney and an Emory & Henry (4-2 ODAC) victory over Guilford would create a three-way logjam atop the conference standings, sending the appointment of the outright ODAC title and subsequent playoff berth into tiebreaking criteria.

Hornets head coach Scott Yoder said the message to his players on Sunday was “clear and simple.”

“It was, if you said in August that we would play a good W&L team the last week of the season to get to seven wins, if you beat them you’re no worse than second in the league and if you beat them you have a chance to share the conference championship, we’d be pretty excited and we would be packing the bus ready to go,” Yoder said.

“And I know they were disappointed and I think in a way that’s a good thing because we were playing for something maybe bigger, and now we’ve still got an opportunity to do something great and we need to take advantage of it.”

BACK TO OLD FORM: After spending the season operating out of a 4-3 defense, SU is reverting back to its former 4-4 base in order to counter Washington and Lee’s option offense this week.

The Hornets are coming off a forgettable defensive showing against Hampden-Sydney last week in which the Tigers’ rushing offense, ranked last in the ODAC at 87.4 yards per game, put up 208 yards.

SU’s rush defense (206.7 yards per game) now ranks sixth out of eight teams in the conference, while Washington and Lee boasts Division III’s second-best rushing offense at 377.4 yards per contest.

The Hornets should receive some needed depth at inside linebacker with the return of freshman Steve Gebhardt – who has missed the last three games with a thumb injury after filling in for injured senior Cody Miller against Bridgewater – although Yoder said he’s concerned about thrusting young, inexperienced linebackers into a prominent role against an option offense.

“There’s the hesitation about playing young linebackers in a game like this but, not only do we have to, but in a way you don’t have to worry about pass. I mean you do but it’s run for 60 minutes, so let them go play because that’s what they’re good at,” Yoder said. “So let’s do that, and I think we can play to their strengths. We’ve just gotta, if one of them has a bad day we’ve gotta identify that and get him out of their because we’ll get chewed up.”

NO HOLDING BACK: The Hornets struggled to establish an effective rushing attack for the second straight game last week, partly a byproduct of an early deficit that forced SU to go to the air early and often.

Shenandoah mustered just 66 yards on 23 carries against Hampden-Sydney, giving the Hornets only 122 rushing yards combined over their last two games, and marked the fifth time in nine games this season that SU has failed to rush for more than 70 yards in a game.

Yoder said the Hornets will do whatever they can to generate more rushing yardage against Washington and Lee on Saturday afternoon.

“I think there’s kind of a feeling of here we are at the end of the year and let’s not leave anything on the table,” he said. “If that means trick plays or putting it all on senior running back Cedrick Delaney) and saying, ‘Carry us to where we wanna go,’ my message was let’s use all the ammunition we got and let’s not leave anything off the table.”

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