WINCHESTER — Shenandoah University’s quest for an Old Dominion Athletic Conference football title took another major blow last week, and the Hornets are now tasked with recovering while hitting the road for the first time in seven weeks.
Shenandoah, fresh off a 45-14 loss to conference frontrunner Randolph-Macon that dropped SU to 1-2 in ODAC play, travels to Emory & Henry for a 1 p.m. matchup at Fred Selfe Stadium. It’s must-win territory for the Hornets from here on out if they hope to have a shot at an ODAC championship, but as much as anything, the game against the Wasps is a chance for SU to hit the reset button and return to playing what head coach Scott Yoder called “Shenandoah football” after last week’s debacle.
“The disappointing thing about (last) Saturday is we got beat by a pretty good team but had we played really well and we (suffered) a touchdown loss or 10-point loss or whatever, you’d still be disappointed, but as a coach you could say ‘hey, we’re just not there yet.’ We didn’t even get to find out,” Yoder said of the loss to Randolph-Macon, Shenandoah’s most lopsided defeat since E&H beat the Hornets 54-21 in 2015.
“I mean besides them beating us, we beat ourselves throughout the day and you can’t win a football game like that,” Yoder said. “That’s the disappointing thing. We wanna get back out there, we wanna play our style of football, we wanna play well, we wanna fly around, we wanna execute. … Hopefully getting on the road’s gonna be a good breath of fresh air.”
Shenandoah’s return to form would include getting its high-flying offense back on track after it was shut out through the first three quarters last week and posted its lowest point total in two seasons.
The Hornets (3-3, 1-2 ODAC) think Randolph-Macon — as well as Ferrum three weeks ago — found a formula for slowing down senior quarterback Hayden Bauserman and SU’s prolific passing attack with physical pass coverage, and they expect a young E&H defense that is allowing 36.6 points and 233.6 yards through the air per game to try to emulate that tactic.
“I’m sure they’ll look at the Macon film and try to be up in our face and be physical,” said Bauserman, who leads the ODAC in passing yards (2,140) and passing touchdowns (25). “We’ve gotta be better this week at making throws in tight windows and getting some separation and things like that. … They’re gonna come out and play hard and be excited to play, and we have to match that energy.”
The Wasps (2-3, 1-2), losers of three straight after a 40-29 loss to Washington and Lee, rank in the bottom half of the ODAC in most major defensive categories but bring some multiplicity on that side of the ball that could pose a challenge to Shenandoah.
Yoder said E&H is particularly variable up front, noting that senior defensive lineman Kash Jones plays everywhere on the line and freshman Blake Williams (team-high three sacks, four tackles for loss) has been both a defensive end and linebacker. Sophomore safety Tyler Redmond, whom Yoder said plays regularly in the box, is the Wasps’ leader in tackles (40) and interceptions (two).
“We’ve gotta be ready for everything,” said Yoder, whose offense is averaging 502.5 yards per game. “We’re kind of in that mode where we’re not sure how teams are gonna play us, and Macon showed us something that they hadn’t shown before. We’re trying to do best guesses but also say what can we do that it really doesn’t matter what they do? We’re trying keeping our guys aggressive that way.”
Shenandoah’s defense, which ranks seventh in the eight-team ODAC in points allowed (37.8 per game) and yards allowed (499.8), is hoping to reclaim its big-play ability against E&H and a dual-threat quarterback in sophomore Hunter Taylor.
Taylor has completed 61.5 percent of his passes for 1,185 yards, nine touchdowns, and five interceptions and is the Wasps’ leading rusher with 260 yards and five TDs on 68 carries. Hornets senior outside linebacker Chris Grady said SU will see plenty of run-pass option plays and speed options against the Wasps, adding that “they give (Taylor) a lot of freedom.”
“I think he’s got a really good grasp of the offense and he throws a good football,” Yoder said of Taylor. “The thing that comes across in the games — we’ve seen a lot of their games — he takes a lot of hits, and I think he’s got kind of that moxie, kind of ‘hey, I just get up and keep playing,’ and I think the team rallies around him.”
A pair of big-bodied receivers — junior Derrick Yates (6-foot-6) and senior Jessie Santiago (6-3) — have combined for 52 receptions, 775 yards and nine TDs this season for E&H. Last season Yates, who has six touchdowns catches in 2018, caught seven passes for 137 yards and a touchdown in Shenandoah’s 47-24 win over the Wasps, and Yoder said SU’s coaching staff has challenged the Hornets’ defensive backs this week to win one-on-one matchups against those two towering receivers.
“I think physically this is as impressive as an ODAC team as anyone will see,” Yoder said. “Linemen are 6-6 and 6-8, and receivers are 6-6 and 6-3, (they) throw a lot of 50-50 balls to them. They’re kind of the RPO team that wants to make it (where) you can’t be right. If you commit to the run, well then they’re throwing the one-on-one to the boundary, and if you don’t commit to the run, then they’re pounding you. They’re dangerous.”