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No April fool . . . Shepherd defeats Mercyhurst in one-game football season

By Bob Madison - For the Chronicle | Apr 16, 2021

The early April football game between two Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference schools was staged at Wheeling Island Stadium. Courtesy photo

SHEPHERDSTOWN — In the middle of the Ohio River. One team came from Erie in far western Pennsylvania. The other football team came from the easternmost part of West Virginia where history blankets its little town in steam boats and a bloody Civil War battle right next door.

It was an early April football game between two Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference schools that couldn’t play during the normal September-to-late-November time segment annually reserved for football.

And it was staged on the artificial turf at Wheeling Island Stadium, not far from the race track and places that mark the high water marks from the river’s floods that have sunk the place’s parking lots in muddy water in the past.

There was no muddy water around in Shepherd’s 38-14 win over Mercyhurst. Just the strangeness of a one-game season that Shepherd will try to elongate with its spring game at Ram Stadium this Saturday.

There were about 350 people in the stands. They were awarded free reign and did not have to pay to maneuver through much of downtown Wheeling before crossing over an ancient bridge to the stadium.

Football crept onto the sports scene. And then it crept off again into the pollen and new leaves of what everybody hopes can become a return to normalcy.

The Rams held only a 10-7 lead when the teams skipped off to the locker rooms at halftime.

In the more offensive-friendly second half, Shepherd outscored the Lakers, 28-7, to make the return drive to Shepherdstown much more pleasant.

Neither team has as much as 300 yards of total offense. Mercyhurst was not able to solve the overall Shepherd defense.

Both teams relied on short passes and Shepherd was the better team when it came to having rushing success.

Shepherd ‘s first possession resulted in a mostly ground-hugging touchdown drive. The high-water mark for the Lakers came when they tied it at 7-7. A successful field goal had Shepherd with a three-point lead at the half.

What it was was football. No national champion will be crowned. No All-America status will be granted any player on either side. No Coach of the Year award can be displayed. No PSAC title banner can be draped in front of a trophy case.

But it was a victory of sorts over the ever menacing coronavirus. It had been about 17 months since any football had been attempted by either team. Their efforts seemed to be appreciated by one and all.

Spiraling passes. Long kickoffs. Whistles from game officials. Some points. Some open-field tackles.

April football had its moments in the sun. Certainly the 350 or so people scattered through the stands were glad the teams had found the means to get back on the field and make a Saturday afternoon seem more realistic than wearing a mask, using the now familiar hand sanitizer and holding true to your social distance.

Shepherd defeated Mercyhurst.

And Shepherd brought smiles to its players, coaches, team personnel, football followers and anybody that had been dragged down by an invading virus that had thrown up one goal line stand after another.