By ROB WITHAM
H-P Sports Correspondent
You could forgive officials if they took a moment last Thursday night to check Shenandoah quarterback Hayden Bauserman to make sure he wasn’t hooked up to be measured for a future video game. The Hornets signal caller had his way with a Randolph-Macon defense that simply could not stop him, passing for 558 yards and six touchdowns as the Yellow Jackets fell in their Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) football opener 51-38.
Randolph-Macon (2-2) had their own success on offense, as quarterback Burke Estes returned to throw for four touchdowns and 381 yards of offense, 161 of those yards to Trey Owens, who had his best receiving performance thus far as a Yellow Jacket. Tailback Tre Frederick had another strong performance, rushing for 160 yards and a touchdown. But after a critical stretch near the end of the first half, the Yellow Jackets found themselves playing catch-up the rest of the night, something Bauserman and the Shenandoah offense wouldn’t allow.
“You second guess play calling, you second guess a lot of things. I mean, it’s my football team and I’ve got to take ownership of it,” noted Randolph-Macon head coach Pedro Arruza. “The missed field goal was a huge momentum killer.”
Arruza noted, rightfully so, the steady work of freshman kicker Chris Vidal, whose only field goal miss so far this year came at an inopportune time, with 1:07 left in the first half and Randolph-Macon trailing 23-21. The Hornets took advantage to drive 80 yards in just 52 seconds, as Bauserman found his favorite target Leonard Scott for a 31-yard touchdown reception. Instead of the Yellow Jackets possibly taking a one-point lead to the locker room, the Hornets went to intermission leading 30-21.
The second half began with the first of four Estes interceptions, but the Hornets missed a field goal try of their own, not able to take advantage of the turnover. Randolph-Macon answered with an eight-play, 66-yard drive ending with a Vidal field goal from 31 yards to trim the margin to six. But less than two minutes later facing a third and six, Bauserman and Scott connected again, this time for 39 yards and a score, and Shenandoah reasserted themselves with a 37-24 advantage with 7:34 left in the third period.
A Yellow Jacket three and out on their next possession gave the Hornets the ball right back, and they marched down Day Field on an 80-yard drive, scoring on an eleven-yard pass to Michael Ashwell to give them their biggest lead of the night at 44-24. The Yellow Jackets responded with an 88-yard drive of their own to start the fourth quarter as Estes connected with Owens twice, once for 38 yards to get Randolph-Macon into Shenandoah territory, and, two plays later, a 26-yard completion for a touchdown.
Having halted the Hornets, finally, on their next two drives, forcing fourth down incompletions in both instances, the Yellow Jackets looked to cut the margin to one possession, but on the first play, Estes’ pass was intercepted by Chris Grady who ran 27 yards for the only defensive touchdown of the night. There was no quit in Randolph-Macon however, as Jordan Foster returned the ensuing kickoff to the Shenandoah 42, Frederick ripped off a 32-yard run, then Estes found Christian Redman for a 10-yard touchdown, all in the span of 41 seconds.
When Anthony Williams intercepted Bauserman at the Yellow Jacket 12 with 3:54 remaining, there was still hope. But on a third and five at the Hornets 33, Estes returned the favor, as Weldon Gilchrist picked off a pass. The Yellow Jackets’ final drive also ended via interception, not Estes fault, as a tipped ball landed in the hands of a Hornet defender at their 21 yard line.
Randolph-Macon is 0-1 in ODAC play, and, despite some good individual defensive performances, such as Calvin Whitehead’s game-high sixteen tackles and Williams’ eight tackles and one break-up to go with his interception, much of the time, tackles by secondary members occurred after Bauserman had completed one of his 32 successful pass attempts. The Hornet routes were crisp, and Bauserman had sufficient time to allow them to develop, as Randolph-Macon’s front four struggled to produce sustained pressure in the pocket.
The Yellow Jackets can certainly build on a solid offensive production, but need some quick fixes on a defense in the midst of an almost complete rebuild with so many starters from last year’s historic unit gone via graduation.
“Our kids have a lot of character, they’re going to fight,” Arruza said. “We weren’t very good tonight. We’ll keep fighting, trying to get better. We’ve got to move on to the next game, and fix the mistakes we made.”
That next game comes Saturday afternoon when the Yellow Jackets take the field at Bridgewater for a 2 p.m. kick. The Eagles, too, come off a loss in their ODAC debut, 37-27 to Hampden-Sydney. Jay Scroggins passed for 266 yards for the Eagles last week, and Malivai Barker had a 111-yard rushing performance. With the Eagles averaging 33 points per game in their 3-1 start, it will be another stern test for a Yellow Jacket defense having to grow up fast if they hope to do their part in keeping Randolph-Macon in the ODAC race.
NOTES: Hanover graduate Kirk Shaffner, a freshman at Shenandoah, caught two passes for eight yards in the game and serves as their holder on extra point and field goal attempts…..Eric Hoy, who caught nine passes for 74 yards and two touchdowns in the loss, is tied for the team lead with Redman in receptions with 22…..Frederick leads the ODAC in rushing at 143.8 yards per contest, having gained 575 yards in four games, while Whitehead, a sophomore from nearby Hermitage High School, leads the conference in tackles at 10.3 per game.