WINCHESTER – It’s become a tradition that Shenandoah University’s football team closes out its season against Washington and Lee. It’s not a tradition that conjures up many fond memories for the Hornets.
SU is 1-5 against the Generals since joining the Old Dominion Athletic Conference in 2012, the most recent setback to W&L likely is the most painful for the Hornets. In last year’s meeting at Shentel Stadium, Shenandoah had a chance to win its first ODAC title with a win over the Generals and instead saw W&L celebrate its fourth conference championship in eight seasons with a 48-21 win.
It was the fourth straight loss to W&L for the Hornets, who haven’t topped the Generals since a 21-14 overtime win in 2013.
“The only one who’s beaten them as a player is one of our coaches (first-year defensive backs coach Byron Mitchell),” Hornets head coach Scott Yoder said Wednesday.
Today’s 1 p.m. regular-season finale between the two teams at Wilson Field in Lexington doesn’t carry the same weight as it did a season ago. Shenandoah (4-5, 2-4 ODAC) was knocked out of the conference race weeks ago, and Washington and Lee (5-3, 3-3) has had its ODAC hopes dashed with back-to-back losses.
The matchup will feature an intriguing case of contrasting styles, however, as W&L’s option offense will try to keep pace with Shenandoah’s prolific passing attack.
Despite the Generals’ recent skid — they’ve lost games to Guilford (40-3 on Oct. 27) and Hampden-Sydney (24-20 last week), the only two teams SU has beaten in ODAC play — Yoder said W&L is the “same animal” that has hounded the Hornets in recent years.
The Generals are averaging only 25.1 points per game this season, the lowest mark in the ODAC, but they have the league’s best rushing offense (290.9 yards per game). Turnovers — the Generals have lost six fumbles in the last two games — have hurt W&L during its losing streak.
“We’ve gotta have our best day of getting off blocks and tackling for us to have even a chance to slow them down,” said Yoder, whose defense allowed 677 yards in a win over Guilford last week but also forced five turnovers. “You’re not gonna stop them. What ends up happening is you play good enough defense that maybe they stop themselves. You just tackle them on every snap, make them (have) more opportunities to handle the football, maybe they’ll turn it over. You don’t wanna rely on maybes, but that’s how you end up stopping them.”
Shenandoah played well against Guilford running back De’Eric Bell last week, holding the senior to a season-low 71 yards, and the Hornets will be tested again by W&L sophomore tailback Josh Breece.
Breece, who ran for 280 yards against SU in 2017, emerged as one of the top backs in the ODAC last season and has carried 178 times for 969 yards and eight touchdowns this fall. He’s fourth in the conference in rushing yards per game (121.1) and is one of six Generals with at least 23 carries and 160 yards rushing this season.
“I’ve always felt like playing a team like this, you need probably a series to get used to the speed because it’s hard to dictate that in practice, but you can’t wait a quarter because it’ll be 21-0,” Yoder said. “… We’ve gotta find a way to get up to that speed as soon as possible.”
Shenandoah’s high-flying offense could help its defense in that regard with its own fast start. The Hornets lead the ODAC in scoring offense (42.3 ppg) and are coming off arguably their most impressive performance of the season, a 625-yard effort against Guilford during which senior QB Hayden Bauserman — the Division III leader in passing yards (3,497) and passing TDs (40) — threw for 578 yards and eight touchdowns.
In typical W&L fashion, the Generals bring the ODAC’s best defense (357.8 yards allowed per game) into the contest.
“We’ve gotta be able to take what they give us, but also we’ve gotta hit some plays,” Yoder said. “When we’ve had good offensive days we’ve hit some big plays on them.”
Preventing those big plays and forcing the underneath throws, Yoder said, is what the Generals do best. Hornets senior receiver Jalen Hudson added that W&L’s defenders thrive on being disciplined and relentless in their pursuit of the ball.
“They all come as a group,” Hudson said. “There’s not one person trying to make the tackle, they all tackle as a team. If that’s the case, we try to look for one-on-one matchups for me … find some matchups for us and hopefully we win those matchups.”