WINCHESTER – Shenandoah University head football coach Scott Yoder said Wednesday that sophomore cornerback Daquan Pridget is on the verge of a big season for the Hornets in 2018. After Pridget’s performance in last weekend’s opener, it’d be tough to bet against Yoder’s claims.
Pridget snagged three interceptions to go along with four tackles and a pass breakup in SU’s 48-33 win on the road at Methodist University last Saturday, a debut that netted Pridget ODAC Defensive Player of the Week honors and a spot on the D3Football.com Team of the Week for the first time in his Shenandoah career. It was Pridget’s first start at corner for the Hornets after playing safety as a freshman in 2017.
“For me individually it puts me one step closer to my goals that I have for this season: to be one of the best DBs in the conference,” said Pridget, a Windsor Mill, Maryland native who had one interception in eight games played last season. “Also it helps my team defensively because we wanna be the best in the ODAC and lead in turnovers.
“It feels great to get my first awards like that and to be a standout in the first game,” he added. “It feels great, I’ve just gotta continue.”
Pridget’s first interception came on Methodist’s first offensive snap of the game, when he said he was in the right place at the right time to grab quarterback Steve Keoni’s overthrown pass that glanced off the hand of a Monarchs receiver. His second pick came in the end zone to halt a Methodist drive in the red zone with SU holding a 13-6 lead in the first quarter, and Pridget tallied a third interception – this one against Monarchs backup QB Devan Cox – in the fourth quarter.
Pridget’s second interception – which ended a Methodist drive that began at the SU 20-yard line and included four snaps from the 1 (a Monarchs offensive pass interference penalty negated a third-down TD pass) – was part of a trio of defensive stands that Yoder said propelled SU to its first victory of 2018.
The Hornets also kept Methodist off the board on a drive that began at the SU 34 following a Shenandoah fumble in the first quarter and forced a turnover on downs on the Monarchs’ first drive of the second half, which started at the SU 37 with Shenandoah holding a 27-13 lead.
“I thought those three drives changed the game for us and asserted that SU was in control,” said Yoder, whose defense also got a 100-yard interception return from free safety Nate Hill to give the Hornets a 48-20 lead with 9:21 to play. “So I was really happy defensively. I think we missed tackles that we can’t miss and I don’t think we can just say ‘hey, it was the first game.’ … But I was really thrilled with the defense. We put their backs against the wall and they came through.”
The defensive performance followed a formula that has become quite familiar to the Hornets. They surrendered 521 total yards (Methodist racked up 107 yards and two touchdowns against SU’s reserves) but made the stops when they counted and forced four turnovers.
Shenandoah’s defensive front was able to sack the mobile Keoni just once, but Yoder said the Hornets harassed the Methodist QB throughout the game and allowed just one pass completion when Keoni escaped the pocket.
The Hornets allowed 178 yards rushing, an area of emphasis for SU after allowing nearly 250 yards per game on the ground last season.
“I felt like inside running we really held our own,” said Yoder of an SU defense that allowed 4 yards per carry. “I think in the second half when we got maybe a step tired we started missing tackles, which I can understand but we’ve gotta fix that.”
Pridget agreed that the Hornets need to cut down on the yards allowed after contact as they head into Saturday’s home opener against North Carolina Wesleyan, which features an experienced combo at quarterback and receiver in seniors Nate Gardner and Trey Lancaster.
Pridget’s lone interception of 2017 came against the Battling Bishops in a game that SU dominated for a 61-14 win.
“I’m not taking them lightly and I know that I’m gonna get tested a lot because I’m guarding their best receiver,” Pridget said. “I know they’re gonna find a way to get him the ball, if it’s throwing, if it’s jet sweeps. I know I just gotta be ready.”
OFF AND RUNNING: SU’s high-powered passing game did its thing against Methodist, as senior quarterback Hayden Bauserman threw for 283 yards and three touchdowns and completed passes to nine different players. But a rushing attack that the Hornets hope runs more efficiently this season got off to a good start, as well.
Shenandoah ran for 160 yards in last weekend’s win while averaging 5 yards per carry. Tailback Mario Wisdom led the way with 13 carries for 80 yards and a touchdown, and freshman Rashadeen Byrd Jr. added 11 carries for 65 yards and a score.
While senior offensive guard Andrew Coffman said Wednesday that the offensive line showed more nastiness up front in the opener, he added that Wisdom “made us look great.”
Yoder agreed that Wisdom, who averaged 6.2 yards per carry in the win, was the Hornets’ offensive catalyst.
“Defensively the big stops were huge but for our sake, Mario came in and his physicality changed the game for us (offensively),” Yoder said. “We were kind of pressing a little bit and were kind of shooting ourselves in the foot, and then he ripped off some big physical runs, we were able to move the chains, we were able to crank the tempo, able to get them on their heels a little bit and that’s kind of where we took control of the game.”
Shenandoah will aim to continue that success on the ground against North Carolina Wesleyan, a team the Hornets gashed for a season-high 221 yards rushing in last year’s meeting.
“I think that would really help our confidence going into ODAC play (against) phenomenal run-stopping defenses,” Coffman said of establishing a consistent rushing attack early in the season. “I think if we can kind of set the bar high, I think we can continue with that success. But this is a completely different North Carolina Wesleyan team we’re about to see than we saw last year.”
Of the nine Hornets who caught passes in the win over Methodist, eight had at least two receptions. Jalen Hudson led the way with six catches for 51 yards, Jake Wallace had what Yoder called the most “complete” game of the group while catching five passes for 64 yards, and Casey Stewart caught a pair of touchdown passes totaling 73 yards.
Freshman Ethan Bigbee also caught a TD pass in his first collegiate game.
HOME SWEET HOME: Saturday’s home game against the Bishops is the first of five straight for the Hornets, who won’t hit the road again until an Oct. 20 meeting with Emory and Henry.
SU, which plays six of its 10 games at Shentel Stadium this year, rounds out its non-conference slate with a game against Hobart on Sept. 15 before its bye week and jumps into ODAC play with consecutive home tilts against Ferrum, Hampden-Sydney and Randolph-Macon.
Taking care of things on their home field will be critical to the Hornets’ goal of being in the thick of the conference race at the end of October. Shenandoah is 12-13 at home during Yoder’s tenure, though the Hornets were 4-1 at Shentel Stadium last year.
“You’ve gotta defend your home,” Yoder said. “If you have a good season, stealing some on the road and defending your home turf is a big part of that.”