SHEPHERDSTOWN -With the game on the line, Shepherd coach Monte Cater made a call to the bullpen.
Cater summoned his knuckleballer.
Not that Cater expected a knuckleball to come off the foot off Eric Dobratz.
Shepherd’s Keon Robinson, center, returns a kick before getting tackled by Fairmont State University’s Garrett Davis, left, during the first quarter Saturday at Ram Stadium in Shepherdstown. (Journal photo by Ron Agnir)
One did, however.
Dobratz delivered one of the ugliest-looking 32-yard field goals Shepherd will ever see, and, yet, at the same time, one of the most beautiful boots the Rams (3-0) will view during their 19-16 win over Fairmont (2-1) during Saturday's West Virginia Conference opener at Ram Stadium.
Dobratz connected on his fluttering kick with 2 minutes, 11 seconds remaining to put Shepherd in the lead in a clash of undefeated teams.
Then Shepherd turned to its defense to preserve the lead, which unit did when Keon Robinson intercepted his second pass of the game.
"I think that was as good as you could put it," Cater said of Dobratz's kick. "It went between the uprights, so it was pretty. It was a unique path it took."
The kick was Dobratz's first successful field goal of the year.
"As long as they don't grade for style points," Dobratz joked. "I'm just glad it went in."
So are the Rams, who looked comfortably in charge at 16-6 as the third quarter ended after a very Shepherd-like, eight-minute drive that ended with Tommy Addison's 1-yard hurdle into the end zone.
However, the Fighting Falcons scored a field goal on their next series and tied the game a series later on a 13-yard touchdown pass from freshman Logan Moore to running back Patrick Pinchinat on a wheel route after taking possession on an interception.
Shepherd quarterback Kevin Clancy rolled to his left, trying to elude a blitz when he stumbled. Falling to the turf, he flipped a pass over his shoulder that wound up in the arms of Greg Underwood.
"I was trying to make a play," Clancy said. "It was like a blackout moment. I was trying to throw it out of bounds."
As destructive as the play proved, Shepherd bounced back.
"We pulled together and got the game-winning drive," Clancy said.
Exactly what the senior quarterback needed to get out of the doghouse.
"That's not something you expect from your redshirt senior quarterback," Cater said of the interception. "But after doing that, he takes us right down, and we get a game-winning field goal. That's what you expect out of your redshirt senior quarterback.
"Thank God he put that (interception) behind him."
Clancy completed three of his four passes during the drive, including a one-handed grab by tight end Dom Jones for 14 yards and a 13-yarder caught in heavy traffic by Scot Riddell.
"He made some great throws, and we made some great catches," Cater said. "That's what we need to do if we're going to win championships."
Clancy finished the afternoon in front of 4,916 fans by completing 13 of 18 passes for 138 yards.
Shepherd added 103 yards rushing in what turned out to be more of an efficient outing, rather than dazzling, by the offense.
The Rams' defense accounted f or Shepherd's first points, however.
After Matt Wilmer's 34-yard pass reception from Moore gave Fairmont a 6-0 lead, only because Brian Taylor blocked the extra-point kick, Shepherd scored on a safety.
Howard Jones sacked Moore, one of the few times the quarterback didn't prove elusive to Shepherd's pass rushers, and Moore lost the ball. It rolled into the end zone, where Fairmont lineman Jack Charles covered it for a two-point play.
"I didn't even know it was a fumble," Jones said. "We came out soft the first few minutes, then came hard. I guess we realized it was a big game."
The Rams went ahead 9-6 two minutes before halftime on Nate Hoyte's 4-yard surge through a pile and Dobratz's extra-point kick.
Addison's run made it 16-6 in the third quarter.
"We weren't too excited about what we were doing offensively," Cater said. "but when we had to do something in a couple of instances, we did.
"We were too sporadic."
At the same time, Shepherd converted a pair of fourth downs during its 54-yard drive that culminated in Addison's touchdown.
Shepherd's defense had those kinds of sporadic moments, too.
Pinchinat caught a 28-yard pass on a wheel route, taking the ball to the Shepherd 16-yard line, but the Rams held, which led to a 25-yard field goal by Frank Keenan that made it a seven-point game seconds into the fourth quarter.
It served as a prelude to the fourth-quarter excitement and drama.
The Falcons made the wheel route count for a touchdown that tied the game.
"We had control in the first half, but then we have a block in the back, a miss PAT, dropped a touchdown pass," Fairmont coach Mike Lopez said. "When you make mistakes... We made too many mistakes.
"When you look at the two points (on a safety) and the muffed PAT, that's a difference."
Pinchinat ran for 64 yards and added another 41 on two pass receptions. Moore completed 11 of 25 passes for 151 yards and also netted 27 yards on the ground as he ran away from Shepherd defenders, who sacked him just once.
But Robinson had Moore's number, picking off a pass near the goal line in the first half and the one that clinched the game.
"I saw the ball and was looking for the turnover," Robinson said.
Seeing was believing, though, as Dobratz won the game with his field goal.
As Clancy watched the kick, "my heart stopped."
So did probably a few others in the Shepherd camp.
- Rick Kozlowski can be reached at 304-263-3381, ext. 116 or firstname.lastname@example.org