Hornets shake off slow start to pound Apprentice

WINCHESTER – Shenandoah University’s football team wanted a get-right game against non-conference foe Apprentice School on Saturday afternoon. What it got was more sluggishness before eventually getting things back into gear.

The scuffling Builders gave SU a game for most of the first half before the Hornets turned a tie game into a lopsided 50-15 victory by scoring 35 unanswered points in front of a crowd of 1,583 at Shentel Stadium.

Shenandoah (6-2), which suffered its first loss in Old Dominion Athletic Conference on Oct. 21, saw some of that sloppiness spill over against Apprentice. The Hornets turned the football over five times – though they did rack up 532 yards of offense – and needed a trio of touchdowns over the final 5:30 of the first half to pull away from the Builders (1-7) and secure back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 2003-04.

“It was disappointing because we wanted to come out and establish ourselves early, we wanted to come out fast and we did the complete opposite,” Hornets senior running back Cory Bell said. “We got the ‘W’ but moving forward we can’t come out like that these next games if we really wanna make a run for the playoffs.”

Shenandoah, which saw Brant Butler’s 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown called back by a holding penalty to start the game, opened up a 15-0 lead in the first quarter but didn’t look sharp doing it. Three of the Hornets’ first five drives reached Apprentice territory and ended without points, and five of Hayden Bauserman’s first 11 pass attempts went through the hands of his intended receiver.

SU’s defense succumbed to the big play early as well, as Apprentice running back Brandon Jones (144 yards rushing) broke off a 49-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter and set up quarterback Terrence Sudberry’s 1-yard TD plunge with a 60-yard run.

“I really don’t know what it was. Just mental mistakes, just beating ourselves early on,” said Bauserman, who completed 19 of 36 passes for 272 yards – his lowest total this season – two touchdowns and an interception. “I guess not focused, I don’t know. I’m sure we’ll have some pretty intense practices to get that straightened out. I don’t know what that was early on but we’ll definitely get that fixed.”

It wasn’t all bad for Shenandoah. The Hornets, who hadn’t scored a rushing touchdown since Week 2 (a string of 25 TDs), scored four times on the ground against Apprentice. Cory Bell had three rushing touchdowns, including a 16-yard scamper that put SU up 8-0, and Jalen Hudson took a sweep to the right side untouched for a 69-yard touchdown in the first quarter.

Shenandoah, which saw Apprentice regularly rush just two defensive linemen while dropping nine defenders into coverage, finished with 205 yards rushing, its highest total since a Week 2 win over North Carolina Wesleyan.

“I think that’s definitely a confidence boost for our whole offense, being able to run the ball like that,” Bauserman said. “We knew we were capable of it and we came out and kind of proved it today. … I think that’s big for us going into the final two weeks, having that as another weapon.”

Shenandoah found a rhythm late in the first half, thanks in part to a stiff wind that knocked down a pair of Apprentice punts to give the Hornets great field position. An 8-yard punt set up a short 25-yard scoring drive, and an 18-yard boot on the Builders’ next position led to SU’s 47-yard touchdown drive.

Bell capped both possessions with 1-yard touchdown runs to put Shenandoah up 29-15.

“You love that momentum,” said Bell, who rushed for 48 yards on 10 carries. “Any time you get great field position you wanna punch it in and take advantage of that.”

Shenandoah scored its third touchdown in a span of 4:15 when Bauserman hit Leonard Scott (team-high five catches for 70 yards) on a short out route on fourth down that turned into a 31-yard TD pass.

SU’s defense, which allowed 217 yards to Apprentice in the first half, limited the Builders to 134 yards in the second half and forced 12 punts.

“They hit us with some plays,” Yoder said. “I think the guys just settled in. I felt like, at least watching it live in the second half … we got them behind the chains. Whether it was a negative play, a tackle for loss, a sack, a penalty, I think they were playing from behind the chains, which certainly helped us.”

Sudberry completed just 10 of 26 passes for 94 yards and was sacked twice.

“Keeping the quarterback in the pocket and then everybody doing their assignment,” Hornets senior cornerback Devontae Dunn, who had six tackles and a sack, said of SU’s success in pass coverage. “If everybody’s doing their assignment ain’t nothing gonna happen against us.”

Two of Shenandoah’s four lost fumbles came on muffed punts, though one came after Casey Stewart got his hand on a punt and the Hornets failed to field the kick cleanly.

Stewart blocked another punt to set up a touchdown pass from Bauserman to Hudson in the third quarter. Stewart, a Warren County High School grad, has three blocked punts over the last three games.

Hornets senior receiver Michael Ashwell caught three passes for 45 yards and broke the school record for receptions in a season. He has 70 receptions with two games remaining.

Shenandoah returns to Old Dominion Athletic Conference play next week with a game at Hampden-Sydney before wrapping up the regular season with a home game against Washington and Lee. The Hornets are tied with both teams atop the ODAC standings.