Hornets fall to W&L in de facto ODAC title game
WINCHESTER – Shenandoah University’s football team entered Saturday’s regular season finale with a shot to claim the program’s first Old Dominion Athletic Conference championship. Instead, Washington and Lee celebrated the program’s fourth ODAC title in the last eight years on the Hornets’ home turf at Shentel Stadium.
The Generals’ powerful option offense churned out 613 total yards as freshman running back Josh Breece came within a yard of the school’s single-game rushing record, and W&L’s defense corralled Shenandoah’s own high-flying offense en route to a 48-21 win in front of a crowd of 1,116.
W&L claimed the league’s automatic NCAA Division III playoff berth with the victory, while the loss for Shenandoah marked a disappointing end to a season that began with a promising 5-1 start before fizzling out. The Hornets finished 6-4 for the second straight season and were 3-3 in the ODAC after losing their final three conference games of the season.
“I think big picture-wise we’ve gotten a lot better but we are not ready to be an elite ODAC team, and that’s glaringly apparent,” said SU head coach Scott Yoder, whose team got the Randolph-Macon win over Hampden-Sydney it needed on Saturday to earn the conference title but couldn’t hold up its own end of the bargain. “We’ve gotta find a way to get there because obviously we’re tired of having people celebrate on our field (after winning) ODAC championships.”
Shenandoah had no answer for Washington and Lee’s ground game, which piled up 466 yards rushing while the Generals averaged 7.8 yards per carry.
Breece carried 21 times for 280 yards (13.3 yards per rush) and three touchdowns – including a 95-yard scoring run in the game’s final minute after SU turned the ball over on downs at the W&L 5 – and junior Collin Sherman had 25 carries for 122 yards and two TDs.
The Generals (8-2, 5-1 ODAC) stayed exclusively on the ground to build a 20-0 lead midway through the second quarter, and their first pass of the game was a 70-yard touchdown strike from sophomore quarterback Drew Richardson to Josh Malm that sent W&L into halftime with a 27-7 lead.
“Their o-line’s so good at synchronizing blocks,” Hornets senior defensive end Tom Whalen said. “You think you’re in your gap, you’re getting chipped by another dude and getting run off by their second guy coming. You’re out of your gap in a split second. It’s impressive. It’s something that you cannot simulate in practice. That’s the biggest thing they do. They know that the speed of it is like nothing else and they do a good job of using it to their advantage.”
Shenandoah’s offense, which faltered at times down the stretch to end the season, couldn’t keep pace. After the Generals opened the game with a 73-yard touchdown drive that ended with Breece’s 42-yard touchdown run, SU drove to the W&L 20-yard line on its first offensive possession but turned the ball over on downs.
On third-and-1 from the 20, Hornets junior Jalen Hudson was stuffed in the backfield for a 1-yard loss, and Hayden Bauserman’s pass to Michael Ashwell on fourth down was dropped inside the 10-yard line.
The Hornets didn’t find the end zone until Ashwell made a nice spinning grab on Bauserman’s back-shoulder pass for a 25-yard score on another fourth-down play to cut W&L’s lead to 20-7 with 4:29 left in the first half. Shenandoah finished the game just 2-of-9 on third downs and 2-for-4 in the red zone, and turned the ball over three times.
“When you play a team like that you know you’re gonna have to capitalize on every opportunity,” said Bauserman, who completed 37 of 48 passes for 324 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. “You know they’re methodical in the way that they play on offense. When you’re playing against a team like that you’ve gotta score every chance you can. That was definitely kind of a feeling early on and we just weren’t able to do it.”
The Generals held SU to half its season scoring average, and Shenandoah’s 408 yards of total offense was its second-lowest total of 2017. W&L was content leaving receivers open underneath in order to eliminate the Hornets’ deep threat.
Bauserman, Division III’s leading passer, averaged 6.8 yards per pass attempt in the loss.
“We thought if we could turn it into a dink and dunk game for them, that that turned into our advantage,” Generals head coach Scott Abell said. “We’re the ones used to having to work 15-play drives, and that (SU) offense, which is really explosive, touchdowns maybe come a little quicker. So we thought if we could make them work, and what a great defensive strategy by our defensive staff. And I thought our kids just did a tremendous job of rallying down and tackling them for those 5- and 6-yard gains and just forcing them to do it over and over and over, and know that eventually the field will shorten. It really worked to our advantage.”
Shenandoah found a last gasp in the third quarter when Hudson’s 1-yard touchdown run and a 13-yard TD pass from Bauserman to Leonard Scott cut W&L’s lead to 34-21. But the Generals squeezed the life out of any hope of an SU comeback with a 17-play drive that chewed up over 10 minutes of game clock and ended with a Sherman touchdown plunge with 5:47 to play.
“Eventually you look for somebody or a play to take a negative hit, get a big TFL, something like that. We just couldn’t get off the field,” Whalen said. “We just didn’t have an answer for it and unfortunately that’s how it played out.”
Hudson led the Hornets with nine receptions for 50 yards and added 35 yards rushing, and senior running back Cory Bell had 95 yards of offense (37 rushing, 58 receiving). Casey Stewart, a Warren County High School grad, had a team-high 71 yards receiving on five catches.
Linebacker T.J. Heflin had 20 tackles for Shenandoah – the second highest single-game mark in school history – and safety Nate Hill had 11 tackles and an interception.
Saturday’s loss drops Shenandoah – which started ODAC play 3-0 this season – to 1-13 in November games since 2012.
“We just couldn’t close it out and hit a few speed bumps, so I think moving forward that’s something we’re gonna have to figure out, is just playing a complete season and competing with these big dogs at the end,” Bauserman said.
“But yeah, I think we have a lot to be proud of, but we’re not satisfied.”