Hornets get back on track with record-setting performance against Tigers

WINCHESTER — Shenandoah University’s football team rediscovered its winning formula against Hampden-Sydney College on Saturday afternoon.

WINCHESTER — Shenandoah University’s football team rediscovered its winning formula against Hampden-Sydney College on Saturday afternoon.

One week after posting season lows in points and total yards in a loss to Ferrum in their Old Dominion Athletic Conference opener, the Hornets’ offense set a new school record for total yards against the visiting Tigers, and SU’s defense delivered key stops when they mattered as Shenandoah romped to a 59-34 homecoming win at Shentel Stadium.

The Hornets (3-2, 1-1 ODAC), who had lost two straight games entering the matchup with Hampden-Sydney (1-3, 1-1), took the lead barely two minutes into Saturday’s contest and never trailed. Their 658 yards of offense broke the previous mark of 611 set against Randolph-Macon last season.

“Coming out first, we just wanna set the tone for the game,” said Hornets senior receiver Adrian DeNeal, who caught the first two of five total touchdown passes thrown by quarterback Hayden Bauserman. “Whoever’s on the field first sets the tone for the game. We knew they’re a good team. They’ve always been good. They always have a good defense, so we didn’t know what we were gonna see coming out in the game. We just wanted to play like our heads were on fire.”

Shenandoah’s first drive of the game featured textbook efficiency. Bauserman — who set a new school record with 47 completions in 63 attempts and finished with 490 yards passing — completed all seven of his pass attempts for 75 yards on the drive, capping the possession with a 32-yard TD toss to DeNeal.

That started a string of four unanswered scores to the start the game for SU, which took a 24-0 lead with 2:54 left in the second quarter on Rashadeen Byrd’s 46-yard TD run.

“Coming out last week and putting on the performance we did, we know we’re better than that and kind of took it personal,” Bauserman said, referencing the loss to Ferrum in which SU managed only 21 points and 373 total yards. “During the week, just practicing better and getting after it, putting together a really good game plan and just coming out and proving that last week was kind of just a fluke and that’s not who we are. Today, that’s who we wanna be.”

Shenandoah’s defense reverted back to a familiar M.O., as well. The Hornets surrendered 552 yards to Hampden-Sydney and quarterback Alec Cobb, who entered the game as the Division III leader in passing yards per game, but SU made a handful of timely defensive stops to bury the Tigers in an insurmountable hole.

Hampden-Sydney made three straight trips into SU territory to start the game and managed no points. Twice the Tigers turned the ball over in the red zone, once on downs and again when Hornets safety Nate Hill intercepted a pass on a tipped ball inside the 5-yard line.

Shenandoah sophomore cornerback Daquan Pridget also intercepted Cobb (445 yards passing, two TDs) inside the SU 5 to halt another Tiger trek into Hornets’ territory early in the fourth quarter.

“We were gonna be the reason we won or lost the game because of their passing offense,” Pridget, who has five interceptions this season, said of Shenandoah’s defense. “We just came out and competed.”

The Hornets’ biggest defensive stand came on Hampden-Sydney’s first possession. Trying to answer SU’s game-opening score, the Tigers went on a long 17-play drive that ended on downs at the Shenandoah 2. SU stuffed Hampden-Sydney running back Kaleb Smith (21 carries, 87 yards, three TDs) for no gain on back-to-back plays before Hornets cornerback Mike Amobi broke up Smith’s jump pass to tight end Ed Newman on fourth down.

“We tried to stay locked in because they’re the type of team, they wanna get us off track or whatever,” Amobi said. “So we try to stay home, do our job. Once we do our job we’re OK, but sometimes we lose focus. We were just really focused today, we were really intense. We played like we had nothing to lose, to be honest.”

Hampden-Sydney finally found the end zone with 44 seconds left in the first half and made the interesting decision to squib kick the ensuing kickoff, which Hornets reserve defensive tackle Jack Swope scooped up and returned to the SU 47.

The Hornets performed some excellent clock management from there, with Bauserman completing four straight passes down to the Tigers’ 7-yard line before a pass interference penalty gave them a first down at the 2 with two seconds left in the half. Shenandoah, sticking to aggressive identity, chose to forgo a field goal attempt and instead gave the ball to running back Mario Wisdom, who took the handoff to the left and carried a pile of players across the goal line as time expired.

Patrick Ritchie’s extra-point sent the Hornets into halftime with a 31-6 lead.

“We’re thinking ‘get points,’” SU head coach Scott Yoder said. “At first I was thinking field goal, just started going back and forth, and Hayden may have been the first one to say it. I know (left guard Andrew) Coffman wanted to run it. I was like you know what, are we gonna be who we say we are?

“I mean, talk about a way to close out a half.”

The game turned into the shootout it was expected to be in the second half, with both teams scoring four touchdowns over the final two quarters. Bauserman scattered three TD passes to three different receivers to help the Hornets stay firmly in control, and Byrd scored on another long TD run with his 25-yard scamper late in the third quarter.

Byrd finished with 129 yards on just six carries, becoming the first Hornet to top 100 yards rushing since Cory Bell did it against Emory & Henry on Oct. 7, 2017.

“The game plan was to come out strong and hit them in the mouth and run them from the first play of the game to the end, the very last whistle,” Byrd said. “And that’s exactly we came out there and did.”

Both teams combined for 113 pass attempts in the game. Jalen Hudson, Justin Ayres and Ethan Bigbee joined DeNeal in catching touchdown passes for SU, and Hudson (92 yards receiving) led all players with 13 receptions.

Hampden-Sydney finished with two 100-yard receivers in Dillon Costello (148) and Major Morgan (116, one TD).

“I think we did a really good job of not just keeping things in front of us but making them earn it, not giving any cheapies,” Yoder said. “(Tigers head coach Marty Favret has) got such a good offensive mind that you know some of the stuff they’re gonna do but they do such a good job of disguising it. I thought today was the first time in a long time, since probably Week 1 or 2, where we were flying to the ball and making tackles. I mean we missed one here on a long run in the second half but besides that we made a lot of tackles. That’s a positive.”

Linebacker Bernie Hayes III led the Hornets with 10 tackles, and Amobi and Pridget had seven stops apiece.

Shenandoah returns to action this Saturday against Randolph-Macon, the co-favorite in the preseason ODAC poll.