Hornets open ODAC play with Thursday night road game vs. R-MC

Michael Ashwell

WINCHESTER – Shenandoah University’s football team has tested itself against three non-conference opponents to start the 2017 season. The Hornets, fresh off their bye week, now dive into Old Dominion Athletic Conference play with a  road game tonight at Randolph-Macon.

SU travels to Day Field in Ashland for a 6:30 p.m. kickoff against the reigning conference champs aiming to buck a couple of recent trends. The Hornets have not started 1-0 in the ODAC since head coach Scott Yoder’s first season in 2013 and haven’t beaten the Yellow Jackets since 2009, a span of eight games.

SU senior receiver Michael Ashwell said Wednesday that Shenandoah’s struggles against Randolph-Macon have put a chip on the Hornets’ shoulders, but he added that Shenandoah’s quest for a strong start in conference play hasn’t changed the way the Hornets have prepared for their third straight road contest.

“Same thing every week. You always wanna play well, you always wanna get a win. That doesn’t change week by week,” Ashwell said. “We’re always looking to the next opponent, just focusing on that opponent and get the win. As long as we focus on one thing at a time we’ll be fine.”

The Hornets (2-1) haven’t had much luck in recent meetings containing a Randolph-Macon (2-1) offense known for eating up yardage and game clock. The task is made even more difficult after a trio of key injuries on Shenandoah’s defense.

Scott Yoder

Shenandoah will be without three defensive starters – senior defensive tackle Gladimir Dupalis (torn biceps), sophomore linebacker Bernie Hayes III (knee) and freshman safety Daquan Pridget (knee) – against the Yellow Jackets, Hornets head coach Scott Yoder said Wednesday.

Dupalis, who was injured on the second play in SU’s loss to Hobart on Sept. 16, had surgery on Sept. 22 and is out for the season, Yoder said. Yoder added that Hayes, who was scheduled to have his knee scoped on Wednesday after suffering what is a possible meniscus injury in Week 2, has only an “outside chance” of returning by the end of the season, while Pridget would need a “miracle” to play against the Yellow Jackets but could return next weekend pending the results of an MRI taken on Tuesday.

Shenandoah surrendered 368 yards rushing to Hobart as those injuries took their toll in Week 3, and the Hornets now must defend a Randolph-Macon offense led by the 2016 ODAC Offensive Player of the Year in junior running back Tre Frederick and a D3football.com preseason All-American in junior right guard Greg Castle.

Frederick, who carried 43 times for 236 yards in a 24-19 win over Shenandoah last season, has rushed for 415 yards and two touchdowns in 2017 and leads the conference in rushing yards per game (138.3).

The Yellow Jackets, as they did last season, lead the ODAC in time of possession (33:14 per game), and rank fourth in total offense (421.7 yards per game), rushing offense (174.7 ypg) and passing offense (247 ypg). They turned the ball over four times in a 25-20 loss to Catholic on Sept. 16.

Shenandoah’s defense is allowing a conference-worst 28 points and 262 yards rushing per game this season.

“The key to us is to make the game our style of game, which we’ve never been able to do against them. They’ve always controlled the game, controlled the clock, shortened the possession time and moved the ball,” Yoder said, adding that SU has never led, much less scored a point in the first quarter, against Randolph-Macon since he took over the Hornets in 2013.

“Somehow we’ve gotta find a way to change the game and make them chase us and make them change what they like to do. And that’s easier said than done. There certainly are concerns that what they do right now might be not what we’re really good at, but we’ve got a great plan and I think we’re gonna play very well and we’re gonna give ourselves the best chance to win.”

Shenandoah’s best defense against the Yellow Jackets may just be the Hornets’ high-powered offense, which leads the ODAC in scoring (43.7 points per game) and ranks second in total yards (494.3 per game) and passing (358 ypg) behind the arm of junior quarterback Hayden Bauserman.

Yoder said that while the Hornets’ defensive strategy a season ago including being aggressive on first down to try to put Macon behind the chains, SU was ultimately undone by its own offense’s failure to capitalize on good field position against a stout Yellow Jacket defense.

“We’ve gotta take our opportunities and convert third downs and stick it in the end zone when we can, and find a couple key defensive stops,” Yoder said. “That’s the formula for winning, but we’ve never been able to make them chase us. We’ve always played their game for one reason or another.”

Randolph-Macon has had to reload a defense that led the conference in scoring defense, total defense, rush defense, sacks and red-zone defense in 2016. The Yellow Jackets lost 10 of its top 12 tacklers from last season (including the 2016 ODAC Defensive Player of the Year, Cole Burdette), who combined for 66.5 tackles for loss and 28 sacks.

Nevertheless, Macon boasts the conference’s best scoring defense (14.7 ppg) through three games this season and is second in total defense.

“They lost a ton but they still look physical, they still look good. They still have a good front seven. They’re big and strong. I mean nobody’s taking them lightly,” Ashwell said.

“They still have a good d-line, good, solid linebackers. They still look pretty dominant up front. … I think they’re still the No. 1 defense in the ODAC right now, only giving up 14 points per game. Obviously not much changed for them.”