SU Football Notebook: Despite setback, Hornets still have a shot to ‘crash the party’

Scott Yoder

WINCHESTER – Since joining the Old Dominion Athletic Conference in 2012, Shenandoah University’s football team is 1-12 in games played in November, including last week’s 49-43 loss at Hampden-Sydney. The Hornets can buck that trend in a game with major implications this weekend.

SU hosts Washington and Lee in a 1 p.m. contest on Saturday that will go a long way toward deciding the 2017 ODAC champion. The Hornets, still very much alive in the conference race, have yet to win an ODAC title and could make a resounding statement against W&L.

“To be honest, we’re tired of knocking on the door at the party,” Hornets head coach Scott Yoder said on Wednesday. “You know, let’s be the party. Let’s crash the party. That means we’ve gotta get the win.”

The stakes don’t get more “must-win” for the Hornets than they will be on Saturday afternoon. Shenandoah (6-3, 3-2 ODAC) needs a victory over W&L (7-2, 4-1) plus a Randolph-Macon win over Hampden-Sydney to claim the ODAC crown and the conference’s NCAA Division playoff berth. Such an outcome would put all four teams at 4-2 in conference play, with SU holding the tiebreaker with head-to-head wins over Macon and W&L.

“We have never, in my time here, had a game like that where both teams were good and we go toe-to-toe with them and we win,” said Yoder, who is in his fifth season with the Hornets. “And we need to do that. And then things are outside our control. Whoever is the ODAC champion is a deserving champion. … This is a great position to be in, and let’s take advantage of it and let’s enjoy it, and note we’re gonna have to play really well to knock off a really good team.”

Michael Ashwell

Shenandoah, which has ended its regular season against Washington and Lee every year since joining the ODAC, is 1-4 all-time against the Generals, who have won the last three meetings with SU.

Before the Hornets’ loss last weekend, they controlled their own destiny in the conference race.

“If we need that help, we need that help, but we’re just focused on W&L and keeping our head towards them more,” SU senior receiver Michael Ashwell said. “If we start worrying about other things then it kind of strays away from them, and we need all the focus we can get on them.”

STILL TRYING TO REGAIN FORM: Shenandoah’s high-powered offense had hoped to find a cure for the turnover bug heading into the Hampden-Sydney game. The Hornets did that, but suffered from what Yoder called a “15-minute lull” in the second quarter that led to SU’s demise.

“The second half, for the most part, and the first quarter, we played as good of football offensively as we’ve played,” Yoder said. “But there were four drives in the second quarter, we didn’t score on any of them, we had negative plays on all four drives, and only the last drive were we able to overcome those negative plays. That ended with two shots in the end zone to end the half and we didn’t convert those.”

Hayden Bauserman

The Hornets didn’t turn the football over in the loss and junior quarterback Hayden Bauserman passed for 401 yards and six touchdowns after failing to top 300 yards in either of the previous two games. But SU mustered only 28 yards rushing against the Tigers, was 3-for-6 on scoring chances in the red zone, 3-for-13 (23 percent) on third down and 1-for-6 on fourth down.

SU botched three snaps in the second quarter after starting center Caleb Hutson suffered a gash on his hand, and Yoder said the Hornets missed a block on an outside zone run during which junior Jalen Hudson “might still be running.”

Shenandoah scored on just one of three red zone trips in the first half, while Hampden-Sydney was 3-for-3 in those same situations and outscored the Hornets 18-0 in the second quarter.

“I think we’re still trying to get back to that consistency (the offense had in the first half of the season) but I think last week was a big step,” Bauserman said. “I think we kind of figured some things about ourselves. We’re just trying to get better every day.

“This week we’ve been talking about just coming out and playing a complete 60 minutes and not having the ups and downs, but just staying on a level plane of just playing really well.”

FAILING TO MAKE A STOP: SU’s defense, likewise, will have to be better this weekend after failing to come up with the big stop against Hampden-Sydney. The Tigers were 11-for-17 (65 percent) on third downs, 2-for-4 on fourth downs and scored on six of seven trips to the red zone, including five touchdowns.

“Third downs, they definitely hurt us big time,” Hornets junior linebacker Kyle Dexter said. “I thought we did pretty well (against) the run game. Even though (Tigers running back Mike DeMasi) had 100 yards, their whole offense averaged (2.1) yards a carry, their running back averaged 3 yards a carry. I thought what really hurt us was third downs and going after the jump ball. Sometimes they beat us deep.”

Yoder said game flow had a lot to do with H-SC’s ability to convert on a high percentage of third-down plays.

“I think the difference was certainly maybe some execution, no doubt about that, but the big difference was a lot of those third downs were in the second half when they have a two-score lead and their whole playbook is open to them,” Yoder said.

Against Washington and Lee this weekend, the Hornets will see the second-leading rushing attack (416.6 yards per game) in NCAA Division III.

“Somehow, someway we need to execute better this week and flip that situation on W&L and make them chase us,” Yoder said. “They’re not gonna turn into a passing team but when we’re up a score or two and we get a turnover, we get a stop, that stop means a whole heckuva lot more in that situation than if we’re down two scores. And I think that has to do with our team complementary play, offensively and defensively.”

INJURY REPORT: Yoder said senior punter/kickoff specialist Christian Arias (pulled muscle in kicking leg) is done for the rest of the season. Arias, who hasn’t played since Oct. 7, took part in an onside kick last weekend and his leg “felt worse” after the game, Yoder said.