WINCHESTER — Shenandoah University’s football team got back on track in a blowout win last week. A chance to shake up the picture in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference lies ahead for the Hornets.
Shenandoah, fresh off a 59-34 win over Hampden-Sydney, hosts conference leader Randolph-Macon in a 1 p.m. kickoff today at Shentel Stadium. The Yellow Jackets were the preseason co-favorite to win the conference (alongside 2017 champ Washington and Lee) and enter the game as the ODAC’s only unbeaten team in league play.
“This is a great opportunity for us,” Hornets sophomore linebacker Bernie Hayes III said earlier this week. “We feel like we can actually put our name out there again, beating a team like this. … We feel motivated knowing that they were picked No. 1, so we can bring a little extra to the game.”
The Hornets (3-2, 1-1 ODAC), who beat Randolph-Macon, 51-38, last season to snap an eight-game losing streak to the Yellow Jackets, likely will need every bit of that extra juice. Randolph-Macon (4-1, 2-0) has won four straight since losing to then-No. 19 Johns Hopkins in its season opener, including ODAC wins over W&L (23-7 on Sept. 29) and Guilford (63-34 last weekend).
Shenandoah’s defense, which is allowing 502.6 yards per game, figures to have its hands full with Yellow Jackets senior running back Tre Frederick, the ODAC’s 2017 Offensive Player of the Year. Coming off back-to-back 1,300-yard seasons, Frederick is averaging 121.3 yards rushing per game, the third-best mark in the conference.
Frederick (5-foot-9, 175 pounds) has scored only one rushing touchdown in five games this season after scoring 24 in the previous two seasons, but Hornets head coach Scott Yoder said the R-MC senior remains one of the best Division III tailbacks in the country.
“He can run away from you. He can run between the tackles, inside-outside game. He’s also pretty physical for his size. I think he’s a complete back and he’s tough to tackle,” Yoder said. “We’ve struggled against good backs earlier this year, and I think Randolph-Macon’s gotta be feeling pretty good about their plan. Obviously, we’re gonna play better, and we’ve got some things hopefully to slow them down, but again I think this is gonna be an ODAC-scoring affair.”
All signs point that way, if last week’s results are any indication – Randolph-Macon piled up 563 yards of offense while hanging 63 points on Guilford, and Shenandoah, which is averaging 47 points per game, set a new school record with 658 yards in its win over Hampden-Sydney.
The Yellow Jackets’ ball-control offense will make it tough for the Hornets to post a similar output this afternoon. Though Yoder said Randolph-Macon is a bit more balanced and throwing the football more this year — quarterback Burke Estes has passed for 658 yards, eight TD, and four interceptions — the Yellow Jackets lead the nation in time of possession (36:40 per game).
They are also the least penalized team in the ODAC and lead the conference in turnover margin.
“If they win the turnover battle and they play well, and they own time of possession, that’s their formula to win, so we’ve gotta change that,” said Yoder, whose Hornets lead the ODAC in takeaways.
Shenandoah rediscovered its winning formula against Hampden-Sydney, with quarterback Hayden Bauserman – the conference leader in passing yards (1,851) and touchdowns (23) – masterfully spreading the ball around to 10 different receivers and the defense coming up with timely stops.
Against Randolph-Macon, Yoder said the Hornets would see one of the best collective defensive front sevens that they’ll face all season.
“I think from their championship year (in 2016) into last year, they found some things last year in the ODAC schedule that really kind of made their identity who they are and they’re playing at a really high level right now,” Yoder said.
The Yellow Jackets are holding opponents to 24.3 points per game — the third-best mark in the ODAC — and rank fourth in the conference in total defense (380 yards allowed per game) and pass defense (195.8). Their nine takeaways are second to Shenandoah’s 11.
“They kind of run (what) looks like a combo coverage,” Hornets sophomore receiver Jake Wallace said, “like one corner will be pressed up and the other one will look like he’ll be in a zone. I think it kind of resembles like maybe Alabama a little bit, our coaches said. And then they have really athletic guys, guys that go hard all the time, and their DBs are pretty athletic too, so we’ve gotta be on our best game.”