Hornets want to start Yoder era with win over Gallaudet in opener
WINCHESTER — It’s been eight months since Scott Yoder was hired to be the Shenandoah University football team’s head coach, and his players couldn’t seemingly be more ready to get his career started on the right foot.
“We’re definitely excited,” said Hornets senior safety Byron Mitchell. “This first game is definitely going to show we have something to prove.
“A win against Gallaudet is definitely going to make a statement for Shenandoah. Gallaudet is a great team. Right now, this is the most important game of the season.”
A strong performance against the Bison at 7 p.m. today at Shentel Stadium in the season opener for both teams would indeed be a good sign for SU, which went 1-9 last season.
Gallaudet is coming off a season in which it went 7-3. Among those seven wins was a 47-27 victory over Catholic (a team SU lost to 34-7 last year) and a 29-22 win over their Eastern Collegiate Football Conference rival Mount Ida, the eventual conference champion last season.
Yoder said the Bison bring back nine starters on offense from a team that averaged 32 points and 272.8 rushing yards per game out of its triple option scheme in 2012.
Sophomore quarterback Todd Bonheyo was the ECFC Rookie of the Year after recording 772 passing yards and nine touchdowns and 690 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns, He is backed up by the 2011 ECFC Rookie of the Year in Quentin Williams, who rushed for 609 yards and seven touchdowns in 2011 and should also see time on the field. Running backs B.J. Flores and Ryan Bonheyo combined for 909 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground last season.
“They’re in the position when they’re talking about winning the league and going to the playoffs, which is obviously something we want to get to here,” Yoder said.
Yoder said Gallaudet’s approach is reminiscent of the ones employed at the service academies, and Mitchell said it reminds him a little bit of ODAC rival Washington & Lee’s offense.
“We need to find a way to slow them down and make them play left-handed,” Yoder said. “I think we have to stop it inside-out. I think we have to take away a couple of their bread-and-butter inside runs. I think if we can win at the defensive line, we have a good chance to slow them down, but I know they’re going to be able to move the football. I just hope not consistently.”
Mitchell said in particular with Todd Bonheyo (Ryan is his brother), they need to make sure multiple defenders are flying at him when he has the ball because of his ability to make people miss in space. But SU also has to be strong up the middle too.
“Our inside linebackers are going to be big for us this week,” Mitchell said. “They have to stop the dive. Coach Yoder has emphasized that if we can do that, we can win this game.”
Mitchell said SU definitely has to be wary of Collins’ ability to pass too, because in that way, the Bison don’t resemble Washington & Lee.
“Washington & Lee will show when they’re going to pass, but this team will not,” Mitchell said.
When SU is on offense (where the Hornets have one returning starter), they’ll be going up against a similarly inexperienced unit in the Bison’s defense. Gallaudet has four freshmen listed as starters on its depth chart though Yoder says he doesn’t see a weakness on Gallaudet’s multiple 4-3 defense.
Yoder said a big key will be containing Gallaudet’s 6-foot-6, 292-pound defensive end Adham Talaat, who made 45 tackles (12.5 for loss) and 7.5 sacks last year. Talaat is considered an NFL prospect.
“A kid that quality and that size you don’t see much at a Division III level,” Yoder said. “We’ve got to find out where some of their key guys are and make sure they don’t beat us.
“If we take care of the ball and make smart decisions, we’ll be fine.”
Yoder is putting his trust in freshman quarterback Justin Neff, a Millbrook graduate, to lead that approach. Neff is expected to take the first two series tonight and backup and Mount Union transfer Drew Ferguson is expected to take the third. After that, player performance and the game situation will dictate who plays.
Neff said he feels that SU’s collective speed could give the Bison problems, and Ferguson likes the way the offense is clicking right now.
“The offensive line is doing great, and the receivers look good,” Ferguson said. “They’re young, but they’re doing a very good job of running routes. And I think us as quarterbacks are making the right reads and the right decisions.”
Neff said he and his teammates are ready to show they have what it takes to succeed.
“We’re so extremely excited,” Neff said. “We’ve been hitting each other for so long, and that scrimmage [last Saturday against Gettysburg], we saw glimpses of greatness from our team, and now we’re really excited to bring that out full time and see how well we can do this year.
“The whole team is on the edge of their seats, just waiting for [tonight].”
Notes: SU has a 2-0 lead in its all-time series with Gallaudet. In their first meeting on Sept. 20, 2000, the Hornets earned a 40-6 win for their first victory in their debut season after restarting their football program. On Sept. 15, 2001, SU won 40-6 in the first-ever game at Shentel Stadium. .... SU will honor the late Patrick Purcell by taking his No. 26 jersey out on the field for every game this season. Purcell, a defensive back who played from 2008-11 and a 2012 SU graduate, passed away on May 8 from cancer, which was diagnosed in 2011. Purcell, who was from Herndon, was 26 years old.
— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow on Twitter @WinStarSports1