Hornets fall flat in loss to N.C. Wesleyan

WINCHESTER – Shenandoah University football coach Scott Yoder said the Hornets learned some hard lessons Saturday afternoon against visiting North Carolina Wesleyan.

For the second straight game the Hornets failed to establish any semblance of a running game to compound some crucial miscues in the first half, and the defense found no solution for the Battling Bishops’ balanced offensive attack. The result was a 31-13 non-conference loss for SU in front of a home crowd of 1,408 at Shentel Stadium.

“You wish you didn’t have to (learn those lessons) by taking a loss like that,” Yoder said after his team dropped to 2-1 heading into its bye week. “But for whatever it was, we got what we deserved today. Did not execute. We got out-played, out-coached, and that’s what happens.”

Shenandoah was out-gained 517-347 in the loss and posted negative yardage in the rushing department. The Hornets also converted only 1 of 12 third-down chances, while N.C. Wesleyan went 11-for-18 in those opportunities.

The Bishops (1-2) scored the first 28 points of the game and held a 14-0 lead at halftime.

“We did not have an answer for them,” said Yoder, whose defense allowed 331 yards passing to Bishops sophomore quarterback Nathan Gardner (19 of 29 passing, three touchdowns). “They were a step ahead of us on their offense versus our defense, it felt like, all day long.”

SU’s offense, which found itself trailing by a touchdown barely three minutes into the game, couldn’t keep pace. Sophomore quarterback Hayden Bauserman (30 of 43, 306 yards, 2 TDs) and his backup, Caleb Dembeck (57 yards passing), combined to throw for 363 yards, but the Hornets finished with minus-16 rushing yards on 19 carries.

Bauserman, who was sacked four times in a win over Ferrum last week, was sacked five more times Saturday afternoon as SU’s inexperienced offensive line continued to struggle.

“We’ve gotta get this thing corrected fast because you can’t be one-dimensional in the ODAC or we’re just gonna get eaten alive,” Yoder said.

Shenandoah’s woes on offense began immediately, when on the first snap of the game – a play in which Bauserman said the Hornets lined up incorrectly – the sophomore quarterback was sacked for a loss of 8 yards. A false start backed the Hornets up to their own 9 before they were forced to punt, and a low snap resulted in a 7-yard boot by punter Christian Arias.

N.C. Wesleyan was in the end zone four plays later when Gardner hit Brandon Leake (five catches, 111 yards) for a 3-yard touchdown pass to cap the 18-yard drive.

After being held in check for most of the first half, the Bishops drove the length of the field to the end zone to go up by two scores midway through the second quarter.

N.C. Wesleyan began the 11-play, 99-yard drive at their own half-yard line after a 42-yard SU punt and, after running back Gerrel Patton (26 carries, 141 yards, touchdown) narrowly missed being tackled in the end zone by Hornets linebacker Javonte Rose for a safety, converted a third down play from the 1 on a 48-yard pass from Gardner to Trey Lancaster. Later in the possession, Gardner found tight end Ben Dorfman all alone for a 23-yard touchdown pass to put the Bishops up 14-0 with 5:45 left in the first half.

Yoder said the score was the result of busted coverage on a play that N.C. Wesleyan head coach Jeff Filkovski said was added to the playbook last Thursday.

The Hornets, who punted six times in the first half, had a chance to answer on the next possession when they drove to N.C. Wesleyan 19 before the drive derailed. The big blow to SU’s shot at points came when receiver Qlyl Middelijn (eight catches, 80 yards) made what initially appeared to be a leaping grab at the left-front pylon for a touchdown. The pass was ruled incomplete, however, prompting Middelijn to spike the ball in frustration, which drew a personal foul penalty. A third-down sack forced another punt with two minutes left in the second quarter.

“I think we were our own worst enemy in the first half, right from the start,” said Yoder, whose offense had four drives into Bishop territory that ended without points in the first two quarters. “You can’t beat two people. You can only beat the team that you’re playing and we had to beat ourselves too today, which was disappointing.”

Though SU’s defense held senior receiver Malik Adams – a preseason All-American – without a target in the first half and limited him to just two catches for 34 yards, N.C. Wesleyan still put together scoring drives of 69 and 84 yards on its first two possessions of the third quarter.

Yoder said there was a drive in the first half where he felt the Hornets were focusing too much on Adams with the defensive play-calling, adding that the Bishops took advantage of SU’s determination to shut down Adams in the second half.

“They figured out a couple answers to what we were trying to do to hurt us and dink and dunk us and make some plays,” Yoder said.

Shenandoah did manage to make things interesting later in the second half with a pair of touchdowns, the first coming on a 50-yard pass from Bauserman to running back Cedrick Delaney (eight receptions, 94 yards; six carries, 18 yards) with 3:50 left in the third quarter.

The Hornets followed that with a 13-play, 80-yard touchdown drive on their next possession. SU cut the Bishops’ lead to 28-13 with 11:43 left when Bauserman – who had left the field after hyper-extending his knee on the previous play and returned after a timeout – found Middelijn on a 12-yard fade pass on fourth down.

A 26-yard field goal put N.C. Wesleyan up 31-13 with 7:50 to play. SU’s next drive ended on downs after the Hornets drove to the Bishop 3.

“N.C. Wesleyan is a tough team but we definitely kind of shot ourselves in the foot on multiple ocassions, especially on the offensive side of the ball,” Bauserman said. “I think that’s probably the biggest takeaway for us is just kind of limiting the mental mistakes that we can control, the 15-yard penalties, the holdings, things like that that we have control over.”

The Hornets return to action on Sept. 29 for a Thursday night home game against Randolph-Macon to open Old Dominion Athletic Conference play.

“Here we go. Now we’re into ODAC and we’ve got a bye week to figure this thing out and see what type of team we’ve got,” Yoder said. “And I mean we’re gonna find out.”

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