SU Football Notebook: Hornets hoping history doesn’t repeat itself this week

Scott Yoder

WINCHESTER – Shenandoah University’s football team enters the final two weeks of its regular season in a nearly identical position as it was last season. The Hornets are 6-2, can claim the Old Dominion Athletic Conference championship – and the NCAA Division III playoff spot that comes with it – and must get through Hampden-Sydney and Washington and Lee to do so.

That scenario didn’t play out favorably in 2016 for the Hornets, who lost their final two games and missed out on a shot at their first ODAC title. That SU has a chance to avoid a repeat of history one year later was not lost on the Hornets this week. In fact, it became the topic of conversation in the team huddle just minutes after Shenandoah’s blowout win over Apprentice School on Saturday afternoon.

“Before we left the field Saturday the older guys were already talking about it – this is where we were last year, feel good about it, but whether you like it or not the last two weeks of the season are gonna define us,” head coach Scott Yoder said Wednesday.

Unlike last season, SU needs no outside help and controls its own destiny in the ODAC race with two games remaining. Like last season, the Hornets (3-1 in ODAC) first need to get past Hampden-Sydney, a team that was 2-6 at this point in 2016 and snapped Shenandoah’s four-game winning streak with a 37-34 win in Winchester.

“I think last year our team overlooked Hampden-Sydney,” Yoder said. “… We wanna learn from that but what it comes down to is just look at ourselves, don’t worry about the other teams. We haven’t played great in the last two to three weeks, and we need to play really, really well. We need to get back to where we were about a month ago to feel really good about this thing.”

Hayden Bauserman

Hornets junior quarterback Hayden Bauserman said he doesn’t feel that there’s a threat of SU again looking past Hampden-Sydney when it hits the road this weekend, especially with the Tigers tied with Shenandoah and W&L atop the ODAC standings.

“I think it’s a learning curve from last year,” Bauserman said. “Last year we were in very unfamiliar territory. This year, we’ve been through it. We have a lot of the same guys back, so that’s kind of been the message to the younger guys. … I think going through it last year was definitely a learning experience and it definitely helps us going for it this year.”

LOSING THE TURNOVER BATTLE: Shenandoah hasn’t been particularly sharp in the turnover department over the last two games, as the Hornets have turned the ball over nine times in that span. That includes four interceptions in a loss to Guilford over two weeks ago and five turnovers (four fumbles and an interception) in last week’s win over Apprentice.

“Obviously it’s a concern,” Bauserman said of SU’s giveaways. “I don’t even think we had nine turnovers in the first six games and we’ve had nine in the last two. So, I mean, it’s a concern but I think a lot of it is just mental. … I think it’s things we can correct and things we can get back on track.”

Of the Hornets’ four lost fumbles last week, two of them came on mishandled punts, and one of those came on a blocked punt in which the ball traveled a short distance beyond the line of scrimmage and was dropped by SU senior linebacker Javonte Rose.

Two freshmen receivers, Jake Wallace and Brant Butler, fumbled while fighting for extra yardage, and Butler’s came near the goal line late in the blowout win with SU’s second-team offense on the field. Bauserman also threw an interception in the end zone late in the third quarter with Shenandoah leading 43-15.

“You hope you get it out of your system and you move forward,” Yoder said of the SU’s recent battles with ball security, adding that he hopes the Hornets can get back on the “fine line” between being aggressive offensively and taking care of the football.

“Hopefully we can learn from that but we still need to stay aggressive,” he added. “I mean we need to push the football down the field and make aggressive decisions that lead to big plays because that’s who we are.”

Shenandoah, which failed to record a takeaway last week, is minus-seven in turnover margin over the last two games and has dropped to plus-two (fourth in the ODAC) for the season. Hampden-Sydney is last in the conference in takeaways (nine).

INJURY UPDATE: Yoder said senior punter Christian Arias, who has missed the last three games with a pulled muscle in his kicking leg, will be a game-time decision on Saturday at Hampden-Sydney.

Yoder said Arias, who also handles kickoffs, is pain-free and has punted “a little bit” but lacks the confidence to drive through the ball and, as of Wednesday, had yet to kick a “full” kickoff.

“He’s on the driving range hitting 7-irons right now, and I need him to bring out the big dog,” Yoder said. “I don’t know that he’ll be able to do that on Saturday.”

Yoder added that starting right guard Jonathan Grammo (back) was limited last week against Apprentice and likely faces a similar designation on Saturday.