Hornets out to avenge loss with road trip to N.C. Wesleyan

Shenandoah University's Thomas Whalen (95) and Javonte Rose wrap up Gallaudet quarterback Timel Benton during a game on Sept. 2 in Winchester. Photo courtesy of Shenandoah University

WINCHESTER – Shenandoah University’s football team was hunting consecutive 3-0 starts for the first time in program history last season when North Carolina Wesleyan rolled into Shentel Stadium and left Winchester with a lopsided 31-13 victory. The Hornets are hoping for better fortunes when they head to Rocky Mount, North Carolina, today

SU takes on the Battling Bishops in a 7 p.m. Week 2 kickoff at Rocky Mount Athletic Stadium seeking a 2-0 start for the third straight year. Saturday’s non-conference game is the first of three straight road contests for the Hornets.

Though last season’s matchup between the Hornets and N.C. Wesleyan is long past, Shenandoah senior cornerback Weldon Gilchrist Jr. said the sting from the 2016 loss is still felt as SU prepares for the rematch.

“We’re carrying that on our shoulders. We lost, at home. It was a big loss for us, so we’re coming back, we wanna prove that we wasn’t just a push over last year,” Gilchrist said, adding that SU may have overestimated the Bishops a season ago when they came into the game still seeking their first win.

“They are a pretty good team so we are gonna come into the game with a chip on our shoulders and have respect for everybody on the field,” Gilchrist said.

Shenandoah (1-0) soared past Gallaudet in its season opener last week, piling up a school-record 556 yards of offense in a 40-14 win at home.

Junior quarterback Hayden Bauserman, who did not play for most of the fourth quarter with the game well in hand, completed 32 of 56 passes for 394 yards and four touchdowns in the win, with senior Mike Ashwell (10 receptions, 120 yards, two touchdowns) topping a list of 10 Hornets who caught at least one pass in the game.

N.C. Wesleyan (0-1) is coming off a 58-0 loss to Division III powerhouse Mount Union in which the Bishops surrendered 449 yards, though they did give up two defensive touchdowns and two more scores on punt returns.

But Bauserman remembers what happened last season when N.C. Wesleyan held Shenandoah to 22 points below its season average, while limiting the Hornets to 1-for-12 on third down and minus-16 rushing yards.

“We can’t come out slow and kind of have a couple drives where we’re gonna feel them out because they’re a really good football team. They proved that last year,” Bauserman said. “We’re just gonna have to come out and put up points as often as possible. Just communicate really well, over-communicate, and just kind of stick to our game plan and just compete at a high level. You can never take an opponent lightly and this team’s a really good football team, so if we come out slow we know we’re gonna be in trouble.”

The Bishops underwent a coaching staff shakeup in the offseason, with Aubrey Kelly taking over as the new defensive coordinator under fifth-year head coach Jeff Filkovski. But Hornets head coach Scott Yoder said he doesn’t expect N.C. Wesleyan’s defense to venture far from the successful game plan it used against SU in 2016, which included taking away the short passing game, an area that the Hornets’ offense thrived in against Gallaudet in the opener.

“I think they’re gonna do what they did last year, which was try to take away the underneath throws, try to force some harder throws that, yeah, if you hit them they’re 20 yards but if you don’t it’s second- or third-and-10, and say ‘we dare you to run the football because you couldn’t last year,'” Yoder said. “So we’ve gotta go down there and be able to move the ball and create first downs, and maybe not have Hayden throw it 60 times.”

N.C. Wesleyan’s offense didn’t fare well against Mount Union in the opener, gaining just 149 yards. Junior quarterback Nate Gardner, no longer granted the pass-catching services of Malik Adams, who graduated as the Bishops’ all-time receiving leader, completed only 8 of 25 passes for 37 yards and an interception in the loss.

In his first season as a starter in 2016, Gardner threw for 2,024 yards and 16 touchdowns (11 went to Adams), including 331 yards and three scores against the Hornets. His top two targets in that 2016 matchup against SU – Brandon Leake and Trey Lancaster – are back this season, providing the first true test of the season for a revamped Hornet secondary that saw only 11 pass attempts from Gallaudet’s triple-option last week.

“I think what they like to do is they like to control the football, run the ball and then take calculated, down-the-field shots,” Yoder said of N.C. Wesleyan’s offense. “And I think it’s a well-orchestrated offense like that because what they did to us last year was they basically, it felt like they called the play from the sideline and were able to (say), OK, if we were giving them something then they were gonna maximize what we were giving them. And when we tried to make some adjustments that they would then have a counter for it.”