SHEPHERDSTOWN - You could almost hear the echoes of Charles Dickens wafting from a corner of Ram Stadium Saturday afternoon: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."
Concord certainly felt the repurcussions.
The Mountain Lions' best play yardage-wise turned out to have their worse result.
Shepherd DB Keon Robinson, right, saves a touchdown by punching the ball out of the hands of Concord’s Brian Kennedy at the 2-yard line for a touchback during the third quarter on Saturday. (Journal photo by Ron Agnir)
Vice versa for Shepherd.
And it grew only more difficult for Concord in a West Virginia Conference game with league-leader Shepherd that was rife with miscues and points.
Poised to break a tie on Brian Kennedy's 62-yard run, Shepherd cornerback-turned instant sprinter Keon Robinson punched out the ball at the 2-yard-line, and Ben Minturn recovered in the end zone for a touchback.
Shepherd marched the ball down the field to take a lead, then added another touchdown and slipped away with a 49-35 victory that sets up a WVC showdown with fellow unbeaten West Virginia Wesleyan next Saturday.
"We played (Wesleyan) last year," said Shepherd running back Tommy Addison, whose career running day included 232 yards rushing and a pair of 75-yard touchdown runs. "We kind of blew them out, but they're a whole different team."
Shepherd had to survive three lost fumbles, two of them by Addison, an interception and a blocked punt for a Concord touchdown to move its record to 6-0 and 4-0 in the WVC.
At the same time, Shepherd intercepted three passes and recovered two fumbles.
None was bigger than Robinson's play on Kennedy.
"It was huge," Shepherd coach Monte Cater said. "It's hard to say with all the points, a fumble is the biggest play, but it was."
Kennedy had broken free on trap play to the right when Robinson raced all the way across and down the field to catch the Concord running back at the 2. Robinson wrapped up and stripped the ball from Kennedy.
"It was my speed against his speed," said Robinson, who said he runs the 40 in 4.48 seconds. "I caught up to him. I thought when I caught up to him to try to strip the ball, and our teammates got the ball."
The ball bounced into the end zone, where Shepherd linebacker Ben Minturn covered it for a touchback.
The irony was this: A breakdown on defense by Shepherd, among the nation's best against the rush, broke down Concord.
That's because the Rams moved efficiently down field on a 10-play, 80-yard drive that included no third downs and ended on Nate Hoyte's 13-yard scamper, giving Shepherd a 42-35 lead as the third quarter closed.
"Our offense, they couldn't stop us, but we made too many turnovers," Addison said. "We knew all we had to do was settle down. (Quarterback Kevin) Clancy settled us down and the line settled down."
Shepherd wound up with 595 yards of total offense, 307 coming on the ground and 288 through the air as Clancy completed 26 of 41 passes.
Concord managed just one more successful drive after Hoyte's touchdown, coming after Addison had broken off his second 75-yard touchdown run, but Shephed sacked Zack Grossi on fourth down at the Ram 22 to end that drive.
Shepherd, which led throughout the first half and held a 28-20 lead at halftime, suddenly found itself trailing halfway through the third quarter.
The Mountain Lions put together their best drive of the game to open the second half and scored on Grossi's 2-yard pass to Gary Baker, who was open in the end zone, cutting their deficit to 28-27.
Deante Steele fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and Concord took over at the Shepherd 27.
Three plays later, Grossi, who completed 28 of 42 passes for 319 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions, stepped up and found Rashid Baker on a 13-yard touchdown pass play.
The Mountain Lions gained a seven-point lead as Grossi gave Kennedy an option pitch for a two-point conversion out of the swinging gate formation.
In a game full of swings, Shepherd tied the game on its ensuing series as Clancy hooked up on a 53-yard scoring pass to Robert Byrd.
"To me, the biggest thing was after halftime when they got two quick ones to go up 35-28, for us to come back and win says a lot about our football team," Cater said. "We helped them a little when we gave them the football."
Shepherd benefitted as well.
After the two teams exchanged fumbles deep in Shepherd territory early in the first quarter, Shepherd went on an 85-yard scoring drive that Clancy capped by tossing a 12-yard touchdown pass to Nikkolai Norrell.
Then Dominique Dixon intercepted a pass on first down after the kickoff and had nothing but clear turf in front of him as he took the football to the end zone, making it 14-0 as Shepherd scored two touchdowns in 17 seconds.
"Really, it was just the defensive line getting pressure up front," Dixon said. "I was doing what I was supposed to do. It was there. It was a blessing."
The Rams were cursed soon after, however.
Delque Chalk picked up a blocked punt and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown to put Concord on the scoreboard. Shepherd's Howard Jones blocked the extra-point kick, however.
On second down on the next series, Larez Harper picked off a deflected pass by Clancy, giving Concord the ball at the Shepherd 32.
Grossi launched a pass on first down for a touchdown as the taller Thomas Mayo made a step move in front of well-positioned Elijah Davis for a touchdown, making the score 14-13 in favor of Shepherd.
The Rams went back ahead by eight points two offensive plays later as Addison broke through a hole and raced 75 yards for a touchdown.
Kennedy, who managed 103 yards rushing, scored from 2 yards out with 4:23 left in the first half, making it a one-point game again.
But Clancy hooked up with Dominique Jones on a 16-yard pass ruled a touchdown, though Jones never reached the end zone before going out of bounds, with 41 seconds left to set up the character-building and eventual second half for Shepherd.
It was a half in which Robinson was on the spot for the Rams in making the biggest tackle of his career and coming up with his fifth interception of the season later in the game.
"Keon Robinson has a lot of heart," Dixon said. "Not a lot of people can do that. A lot of people would've given up."
The play helped keep Shepherd in the best of times as an undefeated squad.
- Rick Kozlowski can be reached at 304-263-3381, ext. 116 or firstname.lastname@example.org.