SU seeks ODAC breakthrough against Bridgewater

Posted: October 5, 2013

WINCHESTER — The last five meetings between the Shenandoah University and Bridgewater College football teams have been decided by eight points or less.

Unfortunately for the Hornets, they’ve come up on the short end the last four times.

In the last three games of this annual matchup, it wouldn’t have taken much to swing the game in SU’s favor, but it was Bridgewater that made more plays down the stretch in emerging with 17-14 (2013), 28-23 (2012) and 38-31 (2011) victories.

It would have been reasonable to expect that playing Bridgewater so tough in the Hornets’ first-ever Old Dominion Athletic Conferece game would lead to more wins, but instead the Hornets went 0-7 in the ODAC.

If SU wants to start making its mark in the ODAC, finally getting over the hump against the Eagles would be a great place to start. The Hornets (1-2, 0-0 ODAC) host Bridgewater (3-0, 0-0) at 7 tonight at Shentel Stadium.

“They’re a tough team, and they’re definitely our rivals,” said SU senior safety/linebacker Byron Mitchell. “It’s going to be a great game.

“I think this year is going to be our year that we definitely make a statement in the ODAC, and it’s going to start against Bridgewater. If we come out and play our game and do our assignments, we’re going to be able to make some things happen [tonight].”

The Hornets hope that “play our game” means a higher level of performance after having two weeks to prepare for tonight’s game because of their bye week.

Understandably, SU struggled mightily in a 34-6 loss against No. 22 Christopher Newport on Sept. 21. SU was only behind 3-0 after one quarter, but the Hornets gave up 83- and 53-yard touchdown passes in the first three minutes of the second quarter to fall behind 17-0 and were down 24-0 with 4:26 to play in the second quarter.

By that point, SU’s offense had run 16 plays on five drives and generated just 30 yards of offense.

“The defense was very well-coached, and I felt like they knew a lot of things we were about to do before the play even started,” said SU junior quarterback Drew Ferguson, who completed 8 of 17 passes for 75 yards and an interception against the Captains. “We just need to execute more this coming week, and I think we worked on that these past couple of weeks. We took it back a step and focused on little things.”

SU’s running game managed just 54 yards on 25 carries, two weeks after the Hornets managed 57 yards on 28 carries in the opener against Gallaudet. The Hornets want balance, and the belief is they can have the type of rushing attack that generated 298 rushing yards against Ferrum if the circumstances are right.

SU head coach Scott Yoder said they couldn’t stay with the run in the two games they lost because they fell behind by large margins.

“[CNU] was tough to run the ball against consistently,” Yoder said. “But we’ve good got good tailbacks, and a good O-line. We’re going to be a balanced team. We just need to play better right from the start.”

SU’s rushing offense will be challenged again this week. Bridgewater ranks third in the ODAC in scoring defense (13.7), second in total defense (240.3 yards per game), and second in rushing defense (97.7 yards per game, including just 3.2 yards per rush).

The Eagles have a balanced offensive attack, averaging 48.7 points behind 253 passing yards and 225.3 rushing yards per game. Quarterback Willie Logan has completed 46 of 70 passes for 682 yards, five touchdowns and one interception. Junior Jacob Wright has rushed for 285 yards and six touchdowns.

Despite the Eagles balance, SU senior nose guard Preston Funk said the Hornets’ main concern is the Eagles’ running game, and he hopes the fact that SU’s experience edge on the line can make a difference.

“They’ve got some new guys up front, and I hope we can take advantage of that and pick them apart,” Funk said.

“We know that they like to pound the rock, and we’ve got to make sure we stop the runs,” Mitchell said. “It’s going to start with me and Sean Blackman [moving from the secondary to the] outside linebacker positions, and we’ve all got to be on the same page defensively.”

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at  rniedzwiecki@winchesterstar.comFollow on Twitter @WinStarSports1