Hornets host ODAC newcomer Ferrum in conference opener

WINCHESTER – Shenandoah University and Ferrum College have clashed plenty of times on the football field over the last two decades. For the first time since 2011, the two former USA South Athletic Conference members will meet as conference rivals. Ferrum, the newest addition to the Old Dominion Athletic Conference, travels to SU’s Shentel Stadium […]

WINCHESTER – Shenandoah University and Ferrum College have clashed plenty of times on the football field over the last two decades. For the first time since 2011, the two former USA South Athletic Conference members will meet as conference rivals.

Ferrum, the newest addition to the Old Dominion Athletic Conference, travels to SU’s Shentel Stadium for a 1 p.m. kickoff this afternoon in what will be the conference opener for the Hornets.

Shenandoah, which is coming off a bye week last week, suffered its first loss of the season in a 56-48 setback to Hobart College in Week 3 to wrap up its non-conference slate.

“The big thing is everything counts now,” Hornets senior quarterback Hayden Bauserman said earlier this week of shifting gears to ODAC play. “You can’t really drop a game and it’s not a big deal. Everything counts. You’ve gotta treat each week like a playoff game and we have to start off on the right foot and play really well. Ferrum’s gonna be really good. They’re gonna be really athletic. They’re really well coached. Coach (Rob) Grande’s done a great job there. They’re gonna be a really tough opponent and there’s no easy game in the ODAC regardless of who you play, but I think Ferrum as an opener is pretty tough.”

The Panthers (2-1, 0-1 ODAC), who opened their season with a loss to rival Emory & Henry in their first-ever ODAC game, come into the contest riding a two-game winning streak that includes an 81-0 blasting of lowly Greensboro College last weekend. As the score suggests, Ferrum dominated both sides of the ball in the victory, piling up 629 yards of total offense while limiting Greensboro to minus-11.

Shenandoah’s defense, which was burned by big plays against Hobart, figures to have its focus on stopping the run this season put to the test against Ferrum, a spread offense that leans heavily on the legs of junior running back Brian Mann.

The Panthers’ 5-foot-10, 175-pound tailback, a two-time All-USA South honoree, has carried 66 times for 489 yards and three touchdowns in three games this season. Mann’s 163 yards rushing per game average ranks second in the ODAC.

“What Mann does very well is he always falls forward,” SU junior defensive end Jordan Heisen said. “He’s always picking up those hidden yards, the random four or five yards. To limit those, make good contact behind the line of scrimmage and really drive and make sure that doesn’t happen will be a big tell of who wins the game.”

The Hornets, who are holding teams to 137 yards rushing per game and have yet to allow a 100-yard rusher this season, also have to be wary of the running ability of Ferrum quarterback Zack Clifford.

Clifford, Ferrum’s second-leading rusher, has rushed for 162 yards and three touchdowns in addition to his 533 yards and nine TDs passing. Still, Hornets head coach Scott Yoder said SU is focused on Mann first.

“We have to understand you’re not gonna stop (Mann) and at the same time I’d rather have the quarterback carrying it than Mann,” Yoder said. “So can we play really good run defense and put them in positions where they have to throw it? That’s not their strong suit.”

Shenandoah’s offensive strength, on the other hand, has once again been its passing attack, and Bauserman enters today’s game with Division III’s third-highest mark at 365.7 passing yards per game.

The Hornets draw a Ferrum defense this week that is coming off one of the most dominant performances you’ll see, although it came against a Greensboro program that is 3-20 since the start of the 2016 season. The Panthers recorded 17 tackles for loss and five sacks in their win last Saturday.

“It’s really unbelievable,” Yoder said. “They’ve gotta be feeling really good about themselves, and rightfully so. They have 33 TFLs through three games. I don’t care who you play, you’re living in people’s backfields and we can’t let that happen.”

SU hasn’t had any issues moving the ball against the Panthers in Yoder’s tenure, during which the Hornets are 4-0 against Ferrum while averaging 45.8 points.

Ferrum, which gave up 535 yards to Emory & Henry in Week 1, has five seniors among its front seven defensively.

“They’ve played a lot of football, a lot of meaningful football, and that program’s turned around from the first time that I played against them,” said Bauserman, who has thrown for 1,097 yards, 15 touchdowns and one interception in three games. “They’re a really good team, well coached. They’re physical up front, they’re really athletic. They’ve caused a lot of trouble for their opponents they’ve played so far and we’ve just gotta find a way to neutralize them up front and find a way to neutralize their linebackers. They fly around the field and play really hard and it’s gonna be a tough matchup.”