WINCHESTER – The goals have changed a bit for Shenandoah University’s football team.
At the start of the 2018 season, head coach Scott Yoder said one of the Hornets’ highest ambitions was to still be in the hunt for the Old Dominion Athletic Conference at the end of October. That time is here, and SU’s ODAC title hopes have been wiped out with three losses in its last four games.
Shenandoah (3-4, 1-3 ODAC), coming off a 52-50 loss to Emory & Henry, now merely hopes to get back on track as a trip to Bridgewater College looms this afternoon.
“What we’ve gotta do is get back to playing our style of football, exciting football where we’re flying around and making plays. Then good things will happen,” said Yoder, whose team needs to win out to post a winning record for a third straight season, something the Hornets have never done. “And we’ve got a chance to go down and play a rival that we’ve played (20) times and only beaten (five times). We’ve got a chance to send the seniors out 3-1 versus Bridgewater, which has never happened before. We’ve still got a lot in front of us that I think is really important to play hard for.”
Lack of effort hasn’t been the cause for Shenandoah’s recent struggles – that fault lies in poor execution for five to 15 plays each game, Yoder said – and it doesn’t figure to be a concern against Bridgewater, which has long been considered the Hornets’ biggest rival.
“The intensity is gonna be a lot higher, tensions are gonna be a lot higher, emotions are gonna be a lot higher,” SU junior receiver Casey Stewart said. “The only thing we can do is go out and play the best football we can play, play to our strengths, go out there and try to flip the season around for us as far as getting out of this hole that we’re in and maybe start heading in the right direction.”
Bridgewater also enters the matchup hunting a turnaround after losing three straight, though the Eagles are coming off what Yoder called their most complete game of the season in a 44-41 double-overtime loss to conference unbeaten Randolph-Macon last weekend. The Eagles, who rank last in the ODAC in scoring (28.2 points) and total offense (342), set season highs in points and total yards (451) in the loss.
Statistically, it was the best game of the season for Bridgewater senior quarterback Jay Scroggins, who nearly doubled his previous season high with 310 passing yards and three touchdowns and rushed for a season-best 62 yards on 19 carries.
Scroggins is the latest in a series of dual-threat quarterbacks that Shenandoah’s defense has faced this season. Junior defensive end Jordan Heisen said the Hornets – who are allowing 39.9 points and 501 yards per game – haven’t fared as well as they would like against mobile QBs, a struggle that dates all the way back to the season opener against Methodist.
“I think we had one sack that game, but we should’ve had seven or eight. We just let (Methodist QB Steve Keoni) get out of our hands,” said Heisen, who picked up a sack in last week’s loss to snap a streak that saw the Hornets go without one for four straight games. “(We) kind of keep getting messed up on draws. … (Against) Randolph-Macon, I think, they just kept taking off with the draw. We keep thinking ‘pass,’ and they’re gone out the gate. We definitely need to work on that, but I think that we have a good game plan this week and we’ll be able to contain (Scroggins).”
Yoder added that the Hornets also need to be wary of Bridgewater tailback Demetreus Jalepes (465 rushing yards, three touchdowns), who fits the mold of the small-statured yet productive tailbacks that Yoder said has been the norm in the ODAC this season.
Shenandoah’s offense, after sputtering against Randolph-Macon, rediscovered its explosiveness following a slow start against E&H and both Yoder and Stewart said a fast start would be key against a Bridgewater defense that is allowing the second-fewest yards per game in the ODAC (375).
Yoder said the Eagles’ pursuit of the ball is their greatest strength on defense, adding that Bridgewater varies its looks in an attempt to confuse opposing offenses.
“We probably have more questions X and O-wise going into this game than a typical game,” Yoder said, “but I think that’s expected with how multiple they are.”
Yoder added that special teams could play a big part in the outcome.
“Traditionally, they are very good in the kicking game, and I think that was glaringly apparent (against) Randolph-Macon,” Yoder said of the Eagles. “That’s how they got back in the game. … And we’ve gone back and forth with them. They’ve faked on us before. They had good returns on us last year, so we’ve gotta have a great week in the kicking game.
“I think it’s also important that if we just neutralize and (there’s) no blood in special teams, I think that’s a win for us because I think (Bridgewater head coach Mike Clark) expects to do that.”
The Hornets have won the last two meetings with Bridgewater, including a 38-20 win over the Eagles in Winchester last year.