Hornets open season against familiar foe in Gallaudet

Michael Ashwell

WINCHESTER – Shenandoah University’s football team has thrived in Week 1 matchups against Gallaudet University over the last three years. SU gets another shot at a strong season debut on Saturday night.

The Hornets host the Bison in a 7 p.m. non-conference game at Shentel Stadium, marking the fifth straight season the two teams have met in a season opener. Since falling to Gallaudet in 2013 Shenandoah has dominated the series, outscoring the Bison 114-12 over the last three meetings.

“We never take any team too lightly,” Hornets senior receiver Michael Ashwell said Wednesday. “It’s kind of just get after it, put the pedal to the floor and let’s see how many points we can put up. That’s the game plan every week, don’t take anything too lightly. That’s kind of how we wanna go about it.”

Shenandoah’s offense has gashed Gallaudet in each of the last two matchups, averaging 47 points and 423.5 yards per game against the Bison during that span.

Hornets head coach Scott Yoder said he anticipates Gallaudet to change some things defensively given SU’s recent success against the Bison defense. But without the benefit of film exchange, the Hornets’ offense enters the game not quite sure what to expect from the unit on the other side of the ball.

Hayden Bauserman

“It’s gonna be a tough game but after probably the first drive we’ll kind of figure out what they’re doing schematically,” said Hornets junior quarterback Hayden Bauserman, who threw four touchdown passes to four different players in last year’s 43-6 win over Gallaudet on the road and is one of nine returning starters from the Old Dominion Athletic Conference’s best scoring offense in 2016. “It’s gonna be a big game of in-game adjustments. Not necessarily going in with any certain game plan but sort of adjusting on the fly, so that’ll be a test for us but that should work out for us pretty well.”

The Bison, who allowed 27.1 points and 307.1 yards per game in 2016, return a two-time All-Eastern Collegiate Football Conference honoree in junior defensive lineman Solomon Worthey, and Yoder noted the additions of junior Demontrai Lewis – a Division I transfer – and freshman Myron McDaniel to Gallaudet’s defensive front.

“On paper it looks like they’ve upgraded their talent level,” Yoder said, “and I think we’ve gotta be ready for, maybe not a completely different look, but just some different challenges with some personnel things.”

The Hornets’ own defense will break in seven new starters, including an inexperienced linebacker group that is not yet at full strength, against Gallaudet’s triple-option offense. But Yoder said Wednesday there is a sense of “calmness” in the Hornets’ defense heading into the game, as many players who are stepping into increased roles are familiar with a defensive game plan that has limited the Bison to 160 yards per game in their last three meetings.

Sophomore quarterback Timel Benton has returned after leading the Bison in rushing (314 yards, touchdown) last season while completing 41.7 percent of his passes for 573 yards, four touchdowns and six interceptions. Also back are Gallaudet’s top two receivers from last season and junior right guard Brad Peterson, a 2016 second team All-ECFC honoree.

Scott Yoder

Gallaudet has added 255-pound freshman fullback DeMichael Shelbon to the backfield at a position that serves as a primary ball carrier in the triple-option.

“We’re expecting a bigger, more talented fullback guy to pound us in the middle, the quarterback to get the ball on the edge,” Yoder said. “We’ve got a good plan and it’s just can we get out there and execute?”

Bison head coach Chuck Goldstein also has added Ryan Fleetwood to his staff  as his new offensive coordinator. Fleetwood formerly held that same position at Salisbury, which ranked second nationally (376.7 yards per game) in 2016.

Yoder said Salisbury and Gallaudet run the same triple-option offense.

“I think that isn’t gonna change but he’s got a lot more answers than maybe they’ve had in the past as far as Salisbury’s done, in the past, some different things,” Yoder said. “So we looked at some of that stuff, too, just to try to be as ready as we can be because … it’s the first game and we don’t exchange scrimmage film, so everybody’s kind of going off hearsay, which is never fun. But we’ll be ready to play.”