WINCHESTER – It isn’t often that Shenandoah University’s high-flying offense finds yards and points hard to come by. Saturday’s Old Dominion Athletic Conference opener against Ferrum College was one of those times.
The Panthers held SU to season lows in points and total yards of offense, and Ferrum junior running back Brian Mann gashed the Hornets’ defense for 260 yards rushing as Shenandoah suffered its second straight home loss at Shentel Stadium, 38-21.
Shenandoah (2-2, 0-1 ODAC) entered the contest averaging 51.7 points per game, and the Hornets’ 373 yards against the Panthers (3-1, 1-1) were 158 less than their season average. SU was shut out in the first and fourth quarters Saturday afternoon after posting just one scoreless quarter in its first three games.
“They’re physical. They’re athletic. I mean it’s tough for us to run by them or find a lot of openings, a lot of separation with guys that are that athletic,” said Hornets senior quarterback Hayden Bauserman, who surpassed 10,000 career passing yards on his final completion of the game but was intercepted twice in the loss. “(Ferrum head coach Rob) Grande’s done a great job. He’s kind of instilled discipline in those kids and when you have athleticism and you’re disciplined on defense, it’s pretty tough to score against.”
Ferrum, which had held Greensboro College to minus-11 yards in a Week 4 win, set the tone early against the Hornets, forcing a three-and-out on the game’s first possession before racing out to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter.
The Panthers held SU to just 53 yards in the first quarter, and though the Hornets rounded into form in the second quarter and put together back-to-back long scoring drives to cut the deficit to 3 points, Ferrum never allowed Shenandoah to hit its full stride offensively.
SU scored just 7 points in the second half as Ferrum – which finished with 505 yards of offense, including 353 rushing – controlled time of possession, holding the football for 20 minutes, 12 seconds in the second half.
“We expect to be played kind of uniquely at times but I thought (Ferrum) did a nice job mixing up some looks in the first half and getting us off the field,” said Hornets head coach Scott Yoder, whose team lost to Ferrum for the first time since he took over the program in 2013. “And I think they did what they wanted to do – controlled the football, ran the football, took time off the clock and, most importantly, scored points.”
Grande, whose spread offense runs on the legs of Mann, said he felt heading into the game that Ferrum’s ability to run the football and win time of possession would be key. The Panthers accomplished that and paired the offensive success with lockdown pass coverage defensively.
Ferrum finished the game with 10 pass breakups in addition to its two interceptions, including three apiece from cornerbacks Rod Smith and Brandon Scott.
Bauserman completed 23 of 39 passes for 264 yards, a season low, and was limited to 108 yards passing in the second half.
“We’ve had some problems earlier in the first two weeks with that,” Grande said of the Panthers’ pass coverage. “We’ve emphasized, because teams are gonna pick that scab, if you will. We made a couple personnel changes since the earlier part of the year. Those kids that we’ve changed have played a little bit better and today was a great test for them. Real happy with how they played back there.”
Mann had Ferrum off and running early, as he carried four times for 55 yards on the Panthers’ first drive of the game and gave his team a 7-0 lead on his 36-yard TD scamper, the first of two touchdown runs for the junior.
The Panthers, whose worst starting field position on their first three possessions was their own 44-yard line, added a field goal and an 11-play touchdown drive on their next two drives before Shenandoah finally countered with scoring drives of 90 and 80 yards. Each of those drives ended on TD passes from Bauserman to junior Casey Stewart, who finished with six receptions for 88 yards and three TDs.
Shenandoah would never take the lead, however, despite its defense forcing two interceptions in the red zone in the second quarter to keep the Hornets well within striking distance.
Following Ferrum’s first punt of the game late in the second quarter, the Hornets, trailing by three, drove to the Panthers’ 41-yard line but were forced to punt. Down 24-21 after forcing another punt in the third quarter, SU’s offense sputtered again at the Ferrum 42. When Shenandoah’s defense forced a turnover on downs with the Panthers holding a 31-21 lead early in the fourth quarter, the Hornets’ offense suffered a quick three-and-out.
Ferrum iced the game from there with a long 15-play touchdown drive that was extended by a costly SU personal foul following a third-down stop and chewed up nearly eight minutes of clock, Zack Clifford’s 24-yard TD pass to Quentin Wallace on fourth down giving the Panthers a 17-point lead with 1:34 left.
“That speaks for itself,” Stewart said of the Hornets’ missed chances to take the lead. “All we needed was a defensive stop and to go down and score, and I think we had three or four opportunities where the defense got a big stop and we just went out and went three-and-out, didn’t do anything. That to me is what really kind of made the game the way it was, is us not taking advantage of the opportunities that were given to us, especially the defense giving us stops.”
Shenandoah had a tough time reining in Mann, who carried 38 times before hitting empty on Ferrum’s final drive and giving way to backup running back Alonzo Beverly. Mann, whom Grande called a “pine knot” because of his toughness despite his small stature (5-foot-10, 175 pounds), averaged 6.8 yards per carry.
“I thought our defense battled. We put them in some bad spots,” Yoder said. “They came up with a couple big plays, some turnovers at key moments, a fourth-down stop. We’ve gotta find a way to go back and look ourselves in the mirror and find a way to get better. We had a bye week and concentrated on some things and those things did not come to fruition. So we’ve gotta take a hard look at some things and try to remember who we are and try to get back to that because we’ve got really good teams coming in from here on out.”
Shenandoah continues its lengthy homestand with a 1 p.m. contest Saturday against Hampden-Sydney, a team that opened its own ODAC slate with a 56-27 win over Emory & Henry.
“A bounce back is very important,” Hornets junior defensive end Randy Oliver said of starting 0-1 in conference play. “Just the intensity of practices, everything, we’ve gotta be amped up because we’ve gotta go uphill now, and it’s a bigger, steeper hill. We definitely gotta pump up the intensity practice-wise. We’ve gotta get after each other. We’ve gotta hold each other accountable. We can’t point fingers today, we’ve just gotta leave it behind us.”