Hornets chasing another 3-0 start in matchup with Bishops

WINCHESTER – Shenandoah University’s football team is a win shy of consecutive 3-0 starts for the first time in school history, and to accomplish that feat this weekend the Hornets will have to get past what head coach Scott Yoder called the most talented non-conference team they will face this season.

The Hornets host North Carolina Wesleyan College at Shentel Stadium at 1 p.m. today in the final non-conference contest of the season before SU hits Old Dominion Athletic Conference play with a home Thursday night game against Randolph-Macon on Sept. 29.

“Coach Yoder preaches we wanna be undefeated the first third of our season, and our first third of our season is about to be over,” Hornets junior free safety Josh White said Wednesday.

“We know it’s a non-conference game so it’s not that important, but it is important to us because it’s the first third of our season and we wanna get off to that 3-0 slate going into the bye week. If we get off to 3-0 I think that we’ll get the momentum going into that Thursday night game against Randolph-Macon.”

This weekend’s contest marks the 10th all-time meeting between SU and N.C. Wesleyan. The Hornets have won each of the past two matchups, including a 30-17 victory in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, last season.

“Defensively they’ve got nine starters back. They know us well,” Yoder said. “Last year was a tight a game, could’ve gone either way. It was tied going into the fourth quarter, so I know they wanna get one back on us.”

The Battling Bishops enter tonight’s game 0-2 after dropping games to Stevenson (42-28) and top-ranked Mount Union (45-10) in Weeks 1 and 2, respectively.

N.C. Wesleyan’s offense – led by senior receiver Malik Adams, last year’s USA South Offensive Player of the Year and a D3Football.com preseason All-American – is averaging 308 yards per game, including just 60.5 yards on the ground.

“I think Wesleyan can run the football,” said Yoder, whose SU defense is limiting opponents to 269.5 yards of offense. “Their stats haven’t shown that but they’ve played two really good defenses. They’ve gotten behind. The quarterback, that’s kind of the key. The quarterback’s a new face. We’ve gotta make him uncomfortable and you do that by stopping the run and then forcing him to throw the football when we know they’ve gotta throw it.”

Nathan Gardner, a sophomore, has taken over at quarterback for the Bishops and followed a six-interception performance in the opener by completing 20 of 42 passes for 224 yards and a touchdown against Mount Union.

Gardner has completed just 46 percent of his passes but has the benefit of throwing to one of the best receiving targets in Division III in Adams. The 5-foot-9, 175-pound receiver has 18 receptions for 245 yards and three touchdowns.

Last season Adams had 1,309 yards receiving and led the nation with 19 TD catches, although he didn’t score against the Hornets in their 2015 matchup.

Yoder said the key for the Hornets is to limit Adams’ opportunities against one-on-one coverage.

“We can’t do it all the time, but if we can run 85 to 90 percent of the snaps where he is not in a single one-on-one position, we’ve increased our odds of success,” he said.

Defensively, N.C. Wesleyan returns nine starters from a unit that allowed 31.2 points and 441.4 yards per game last season.

Shenandoah’s offense has been rolling early in 2016, as the Hornets are averaging 48 points and 414 yards of offense through two games and nearly matched the school record with 53 points in a win over Ferrum last week. However, SU failed to establish a consistent rushing attack last week against the Panthers (tailbacks Cedrick Delaney and Jalen Hudson combined to average just 2.7 yards per rush on 22 carries) and instead relied on sophomore quarterback Hayden Bauserman (568 passing yards, eight touchdowns, two interceptions) and the short passing game to take advantage of soft coverage.

Last season SU gashed N.C. Wesleyan for 353 yards rushing.

“The interesting thing is gonna be to see how they play us because if you look at what Ferrum did, we hit them over the top a couple times early and then we were able to just kind of control the game through the short passing game,” Yoder said. “And will Wesleyan try to take that away from Hayden and crowd our receivers? If they do we should have more luck in the running game.”

NOTE: Due to construction work adjacent to Shentel Stadium, fans attending today’s game must enter the stadium from the U.S. Route 50/Millwood Drive entrance. There will be no access to the stadium from the main campus as Shockey Drive will be one way from U.S. Route 50 heading toward campus.

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