WINCHESTER — Shenandoah University’s football team had one non-conference game before it dives into Old Dominion Athletic Conference play. A matchup against a rival amps up an already important Week 3 contest for the Hornets.
Shenandoah hosts Bridgewater at Shentel Stadium today hoping to kick off conference play on a high note. Add in the fact that the game also serves as SU’s home opener — and is a night game with a 7 p.m. kickoff — and there’s even more significance added to a game that always carries a little more weight for the Hornets.
“Bridgewater week feels different than preparing for any other team. It’s just that much more exciting,” Hornets senior linebacker Tyler Williams said Wednesday. “Everyone’s that much more juiced. It’s just Bridgewater week. Everyone’s gonna be saying it all week. … We just put extra emphasis on everything we do.”
SU, which had its Week 1 game canceled, opened its season with a 35-19 win over North Carolina Wesleyan last weekend, marking the sixth straight year the Hornets have won their season opener. Shenandoah is also trying to buck a less fortunate trend that has seen the Hornets lose four of their last five ODAC openers.
A Shenandoah offense still in the process of finding its new identity draws a big early season test against a senior-laden Bridgewater (2-0) defense that led the conference in total defense (341 yards allowed per game) last season.
The Eagles are right on pace to match that performance early this season, and through two games are allowing 340 yards of total offense and just 86.5 yards rushing per contest. Bridgewater already has 14 sacks — double Shenandoah’s entire 2018 output — and four takeaways this season.
“They’re pretty unique schematically,” said Hornets junior quarterback Ben Agostino, who will make his first start on Saturday after coming off the bench to replace Ben Rhodenizer late in the first half of the opener. “They like bringing add-on rushers from different places. They’re a very unique defense in just the different coverages, blitz schemes. Just what they run is not very common. It could throw a lot of teams off and wreak some havoc.”
Senior linebacker Re’Shaun Myers, the 2018 ODAC Defensive Player of the Year, leads the Eagles with 21 tackles, four sacks and five tackles for loss. Fellow senior linebacker Gary Ramey had 18 tackles, four sacks and three TFLs.
Shenandoah head coach Scott Yoder called Myers, who had 84 tackles, three sacks and 9.5 TFLs in 2018, a “pretty special player.”
“We’ve got some good linebackers here, so we know good linebacker play, and Re’Shaun is a very good player,” Yoder said. “They’ve got a good group of seniors around him and they play team defense as well as anyone in the ODAC. If they’re out of position, they're not out of position long. Everyone tackles well and they do a great job of coaching them because they’re playing to everybody’s strengths. They’re basically protecting [Myers] and funneling stuff to him. And he’s a tough guy to block.”
Against an N.C. Wesleyan defense that also boasted its conference’s 2018 Defensive Player of the Year — linebacker Antonio Johnson — Shenandoah racked up 432 yards of total offense and had running backs Rashadeen Byrd Jr. and Mario Wisdom combine for five touchdowns.
Yoder said the Hornets’ challenge is bigger this week, calling Bridgewater’s defensive scheme a “different animal.”
“I have to say the main issue is No. 52, that middle linebacker,” Byrd said of Myers. “He’s a big part of their defense. When I watch film, I usually key in on him to see where he’s at, what he’s doing. Most of the time he’s at the ball when the play is over. Our focus is probably gonna be just to kind of figure out how to work around him, as well as other players too. But for me he’s my main priority this week, to make sure I can keep him out of the play as much as possible.”
A Shenandoah defense that was quite generous to opposing offenses in 2018 — the Hornets allowed 341 yards rushing in a 28-20 loss to Bridgewater last season — had an overall encouraging opener last weekend.
Though the Hornets allowed 447 yards to N.C. Wesleyan and 17 plays of 10 or more yards — including touchdown passes of 85 and 68 yards in the second half — SU set a school record with five interceptions.
Those five picks came against a first-year starting quarterback and SU won’t have that same luxury Saturday night. Bridgewater senior Jay Scroggins, a transfer from NCAA Division II Shepherd University, has been the Eagles’ starting QB since late in the 2016 season.
Scroggins, who threw two touchdown passes and rushed for two more scores against SU last season, has been efficient with the football so far in 2019. He’s completed 63 percent of his passes (30 of 48) while throwing for 423 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions in wins over Gettysburg and Stevenson.
“I was impressed with how efficient and how far along they are offensively. And certainly it starts with the quarterback, Scroggins,” Yoder said. “What I've seen of him this year, he’s played excellent. The ball’s out of his hand, he’s making good decisions, he’s spreading the ball around. He’s using his feet when he needs to.”
Bridgewater junior running back Demetrus Jalepes, one of two Eagles to top 100 yards rushing vs. SU in 2018, has carried 38 times for 192 yards (5.1 yards per rush) and two touchdowns this season. Receiver Trey Stephens leads the Eagles with six receptions for 127 yards and two touchdowns.
Bridgewater is averaging 39 points and 425.5 yards per game.
“They’ve got a whole lot of formations, a whole lot of motions and stuff,” Williams said. “They’re very multiple, but it comes down to the same plays. They’re just coming at you from many different looks. It’s more of just staying true to the plays, not the formations and the motions and everything, just playing football.”