Missed chances doom Hornets in loss

WINCHESTER – Shenandoah University’s football team made things interesting in the fourth quarter of Friday night’s Old Dominion Athletic Conference opener against visiting Randolph-Macon College. But it was the Hornets’ missed opportunities in the first half that loomed large as the final seconds ticked off the clock at Shentel Stadium.

In a game played in a persistent light rain, Shenandoah came up empty on three red zone trips in the first two quarters, opening a lane for the Yellow Jackets to run its way to 24-19 conference victory in front of a crowd of 953.

“I thought the first quarter, to play that way and really not have anything to show for it was the big story for us,” said Hornets head coach Scott Yoder, whose team has now lost two straight. “It was a tough night. A tough night just to execute offensively the way we want to.

“But we prepared. I liked our plan. We just made too many mistakes. You can’t leave opportunities like that against a good team. And they showed why.”

Shenandoah’s offense, which finished with 332 yards in the loss, started its first three possessions of the game in Randolph-Macon territory but couldn’t find points.

After a 45-yard kickoff return by Cedrick Delaney opened the game, quarterback Hayden Bauserman found Justin Ayres for a 26-yard gain down to the Randolph-Macon 19 on the next play before the Hornets turned the ball over on downs at the 10.

A three-and-out forced by SU’s defense gave the ball back to the Hornets at the R-MC 40 before that drive ended when Bauserman’s pass into triple coverage was picked by Eric Long.

“They just had good coverage on it and obviously they had it pretty well defended,” said Bauserman, who completed 29 of 51 passes for 296 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. “We had two receivers in kind of a close proximity and I forced it. Obviously if I could take that back I’d definitely throw the ball away. You live and you learn, just get better.”

A sliding interception by SU’s Josh White – the first of three turnovers forced by the Hornets – on an under-thrown pass gave the Hornets the ball at the R-MC 45 and, after a successful fake punt that saw Bauserman hit Casey Stewart for 21 yards down to the 18, Shenandoah again turned the ball over on downs at the 12.

Shenandoah also failed to capitalize on a short field just before halftime, as Derek Davis’ 27-yard field goal attempt clanged off the left upright as time expired.

“There was obviously some times we drove the ball down and they just kind of stiffened up and did what they needed to do,” Bauserman said. “But I think on our part we’ve just gotta get better at the things we do and just kind of correct those mental mistakes that you get the ball in plus territory, drive the ball down and just kind of shoot yourself in the foot. Kind of just brings everybody down a little bit.”

Randolph-Macon, held to just 35 yards in the opening quarter, nearly doubled that output on the first play of the second quarter as quarterback Joseph Vairo connected with Harrison Smith for 33-yards on third-and-long to the Shenandoah 40. Vairo capped a 15-play, 57-yard drive with a 6-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Willie Schaub to put the Yellow Jackets up 7-0 with 7:58 left in the second quarter.

The scoring drive, which included 13 running plays and a successful fourth-and-inches conversion inside the 10, chewed up over eight minutes of clock.

Shenandoah countered the Yellow Jackets’ touchdown with another explosive kick return from Delaney, who raced 42 yards to the R-MC 34. Two plays later, Bauserman found Mike Ashwell (eight receptions, 86 yards) open over the middle, and the junior receiver shook a tackler at the 5 before lunging across the goal line with a defender on his back to tie the game at 7-all.

A pair of SU penalties on the ensuing kickoff gave momentum right back to the Yellow Jackets. Starting at the Hornet 37, running back Tre Frederick carried six straight times to the SU 9 before Randolph-Macon converted a 26-yard field goal for a 10-7 lead with 3:11 left in the second quarter.

Bauserman’s second interception – this one coming when Cole Burdette’s hit on the quarterback cause the ball to pop into the air before being snagged by defensive tackle Jake Pinkston at the SU 35 – set up Frederick’s 1-yard plunge into the end zone for a 17-7 lead with 30 seconds left in the first half.

Shenandoah’s defense, which allowed 364 yards (including 264 on 60 carries), held the Yellow Jackets out of the end zone until midway through the fourth quarter.

“We prepared very well. It was difficult at some points but we fixed the little things, like the adjustments on the sideline, it became easier as the game progressed,” Hornets senior outside linebacker Malik Sims said.

“Just reading our keys, playing physical, not letting them block us – meeting them. That’s really about it. We were just focusing on what one person’s supposed to do. If everybody do their one-eleventh how we can catch them in the backfield, might get the negative play.”

Sims gave SU a jolt when he scooped up a fumble forced by teammate Micheal Wroble (game-high 12 tackles) and raced 55 yards to the end zone to cut R-MC’s lead to 17-13 with 9:07 left to play.

Sims said the play was powered by the spirit of a former football coach at his alma mater, Suitland High in Maryland, who passed away in a car accident a year before Sims arrived at the school.

“Today I was really focused on him pre-game, just asking him to be with me in pre-game prayers and that play really was mostly all him, to be honest,” Sims said.

The Yellow Jackets, who rode the legs of Frederick (44 carries, 237 yards, two touchdowns) all night, immediately countered with a five-play, 62-yard scoring drive – highlighted by Frederick’s 42-yard scamper that preceded his 7-yard touchdown run to put Randolph-Macon back up by 11 points.

“No doubt he’s a good player, you don’t leverage the ball, he’s gonna hurt you. He showed that. Here’s the thing – our guys were gassed,” Yoder said. “I mean we’re in shape, we played a ton of plays, we’re playing our hearts out and we score on a defensive score and you’re right back on the field.”

The Hornets came back with a 13-play, 65-yard touchdown drive that ended with Bauserman’s 9-yard fade pass to Qlyl Middelijn (nine catches, 95 yards) with 1:46 left, but R-MC recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran out the clock.

Shenandoah, which has struggled to run the football over the last few weeks, rushed for 36 yards on 17 carries Friday night and had converted just 1 of 12 third downs before finding success on all three of their third-down chances on their final scoring drive.

“We played at a high level at times tonight, just not enough,” Yoder said. “And we will get better. My only concern for our team is can we emotionally rebound. … My biggest fear is not X’s and O’s, it’s not execution. It’s can we mentally get over this and don’t let a team beat you twice. If we can we’re gonna be fine. If we can’t it’s gonna be a long month of football.”

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