Fairmont shows Shepherd a physical presence in crucial game
SHEPHERDSTOWN — To win, not much can go wrong when you are playing Fairmont. A few turnovers will get you a loss. If you can’t make quarterback Takwan Crews-Naylor feel he needs to hurry when passing, that’s a recipe for a loss. Khalik Hamlin averages 118 rushing yards per game. Should he go over 100 yards against Shepherd, the Rams are going to be in jeopardy of absorbing a second loss this season.
The Fighting Falcons have receivers Shawn Harris and Javon Hayes, each with 28 catches, and Hayes with six touchdowns.
However, it’s usually with their stiff-necked defense that the Fighting Falcons win or lose.
They have Jerry Iweh with 48 tackles, and Antonio Harris with 46 stops.
Fairmont was stung by a last-minutes mistake last week in its bruising game against unbeaten Notre Dame.
Leading 14-3 at the half and then 21-17 with just under two minutes to play, Fairmont was in punt formation from about its 18. The snap wasn’t cleanly caught, and a 13-yard loss resulted.
Notre Dame took over on the Fairmont five from where Jale McLaughlin finally scored from the two, to give Notre Dame a 24-21 lead with only 1:33 remaining.
That loss left the Fighting Falcons with a 4-2 record, with wins over Stonehill, Urbana, West Virginia Wesleyan and Virginia-Wise and a 23-17 loss to Charleston, as well as the climactic 3-point loss to Notre Dame.
After its season-opening loss at Notre Dame, Shepherd has beaten Glenville, West Virginia State, Concord and West Liberty to come into Saturday’s noontime date against Fairmont with a 4-1 overall record.
The Rams can’t afford another loss, if they aim to claim a fifth MEC championship in the six years the league has existed.
Few teams ever gain the upper hand against Fairmont’s defense versus the run. Shepherd has Zyan Sturdivant, newly-used Antwan Squire, Sam James and Deonte Glover to test the inner wall of the Falcons.
Shepherd’s offensive line hasn’t been able to make much room for its stable of mostly-freshmen runners. Should the Rams fail to get 140 rushing yards on Saturday, their task is made much more difficult.
Still, the Rams have usually thrown for bunches of yards and bunches of scores with freshman Tyson Bagent, teaming with Ryan Feiss, Wanya Allen, Greg Leonard and tight end DJ Cornish.
Bagent will need ample time to do more of the same this week. Shepherd can’t afford four or five sacks and numerous “hurries” if it is going to move past the feisty Falcons.
Turnovers could decide the outcome. Penalties certainly could become the decisive factor. Shepherd has been plagued with missed extra points, errant snaps and now lately penalties have given it reason to worry about game-changing problems.
Chrys Lane, Ponce DeLeon and their mates could easily decide the outcome, but a previously unseen consistent pass rush would make Shepherd’s chances brighter.
The Rams can’t cede 150 rushing yards to Hamlin and company. And they can’t be penalized 90 or more yards.
Fairmont’s return teams have created many more opportunities than have Shepherd’s. And Fairmont makes its extra points and inside-the-35 field goal tries. Shepherd has missed a number of such attempts.
Recently, the games between the longtime rivals have been decided by seven points or fewer. No reasons to believe the same, rough-and-tumble outcome won’t be the theme again this year.