FRONT ROYAL – Sophomore Ben Rhodenizer will be Shenandoah University’s starting quarterback in Saturday’s football season opener at North Carolina Wesleyan, head coach Scott Yoder confirmed on Wednesday afternoon.
The decision settles, at least for the time being, a QB competition between Rhodenizer and junior Ben Agostino that began when the Hornets opened preseason camp in mid-August. But Yoder, who said he’s never been a part of a quarterback battle as closely contested as this one, reiterated on Wednesday that Rhodenizer’s starting job is not set in stone, suggesting the competition for that spot could be a weekly one throughout the season.
“Rhodenizer’s gonna start, and what we feel strongly is that both bring something to the table and both are playing at a solid enough level not to say that one guy’s the starter for the whole year,” Yoder said on Wednesday. “... What we have basically said is Rhodey’s gonna start and they both need to be ready to play. Rhodey’s got to understand this is not ‘we anoint you the quarterback for the season.’ This is ‘perform, and if you don’t, you know you have somebody who is 1A or 1B, depending on the day, right there.’ That’s where we are. Right, wrong or indifferent, that’s where we are.”
Yoder said last week that the Hornets’ coaching staff had no plans to use both quarterbacks in a planned rotation and restated that fact on Wednesday. If things are going well for the Hornets’ offense on Saturday, Rhodenizer will be taking the snaps for SU.
Saturday’s start will be the first at the collegiate level for Rhodenizer, a dual-threat sophomore from Lexington who piled up over 4,000 yards of offense and 39 touchdowns during his senior season at Rockbridge County High School in 2017.
Rhodenizer has not thrown a pass at the collegiate level but won the starting job, Yoder said, with his play at the end of preseason camp and in the Hornets’ last scrimmage against Gettysburg College on Aug. 31.
“Rhodey led a nice two-minute drill, I think had three of our four offensive touchdowns,” Yoder said of Rhodenizer’s performance against Gettysburg. “And the way he was engineering those drives – and that’s not to say Agostino didn’t have a good scrimmage, because he did. He had our first touchdown. But we just felt like coming out of that and knowing we had to name a guy, we thought that that would be what it was. But to be honest, I don’t know if I’ve been a part of a race that’s this close because honestly today we could go out there and Agostino could look better, and that’s not because Rhodey had a bad day, it’s just that they’re that close.”
ONE BIG QUESTION: The naming of its new starting QB is a step toward answering Shenandoah’s biggest question heading into the 2019 season: What will the Hornets’ offense look like in the post-Hayden Bauserman era?
SU should have a more definitive answer after Saturday’s opener.
The Hornets’ offense, with Bauserman running the show, torched N.C. Wesleyan’s defense in each of the last two meetings, lighting up the scoreboard for 59 points against the Bishops last season and 61 in 2017 and piling up 1,130 total yards of offense in two lopsided Shenandoah wins.
Yoder said N.C. Wesleyan has nine starters back from last year’s defensive unit – which ranked third in the eight-team USA South Athletic Conference in scoring defense (25.8 points per game allowed) and fourth in total defense (389.9 yards) – including the 2018 USA South Defensive Player of the Year, senior linebacker Antonio Johnson.
“It’s the big thing I want to see,” Hornets senior receiver Casey Stewart said of SU’s offense getting the chance to see what it can do in its first game action of 2019. “... It’s that big question mark of how are we gonna be without Hayden Bauserman, losing (four) offensive linemen? But you know, we had a little glimpse of it during the scrimmage against Gettysburg, so I think we’re ready and we’re excited to see where we’re at, where we’re gonna be as far as our offensive mindset. I think we’ll be in a good place.”
Taking a more intricate look within that offense’s 2019 debut, Yoder said the Hornets hope to get a better idea on Saturday of who their go-to player will be when faced with a game-deciding play. It’s a question that Yoder posed at the start of preseason and has yet to find a solution for.
“Last year in a critical situation we wanted 8 (Bauserman) to have the ball and we would live or die with that,” Yoder said. “We don’t know what the answer to that question is right now.”
FIRST-GAME JITTERS: Shenandoah’s season opener on Saturday in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, won’t hold that same distinction for N.C. Wesleyan, which began its season with a Week 1 overtime win over Emory & Henry last weekend.
The Hornets’ own Week 1 contest against Methodist was canceled due to Hurricane Dorian (Methodist, located in Fayetteville, North Carolina, closed its campus last week and informed SU on Sept. 2 that its football team would not make the trip to Winchester for the opener), meaning Shenandoah is already behind the chains when it comes to working out any first-game kinks.
Stewart and senior Randy Oliver both said on Wednesday they expect some of the inconsistencies that come with a season opener to present themselves on Saturday, particularly as some of the younger Hornets see significant game action for the first time.
“(It’s the) first game, so we’ve got to work out the kinks, obviously, but I just want to see how much of a well-oiled machine we are, how good we are and what we’re good at,” said Oliver, adding that N.C. Wesleyan has the upper hand in that it’s already had a chance to identify and correct whatever mistakes it made last weekend. “They’re game-conditioned. They got a little taste of it and we haven’t, so we’re gonna be behind on that part, that aspect of it. But I think we’ve been working really hard the last week of practice, put in a lot of time and effort in preparing for them and I think we’ll be good.”
Yoder too sounded encouraged by his team’s handling of its Week 1 cancellation, which came after the Hornets were deep into their prep for Methodist and presents Shenandoah with the latest start to a season in program history.
“There could’ve been so many things that went sideways and we ended up having a great week of practice,” Yoder said. “I think that says a lot about our players and the guys that are in leadership roles, not just the captains. Yesterday we had a really good practice. I think that if we string a couple more together, we’re gonna be absolutely ready to play.”