Rams show why they are unbeaten, ranked
FAIRMONT – Some long ago football sage said beating an undefeated football team takes an explosive combination of happenings because the unbeatens find a reserve of will power, determination, camaraderie, done-this-before and unyielding talent to persevere.
That voice of wisdom wasn’t Earl Blaik, Forest Evashevski, Knute Rockne or Lynn “Pappy” Waldorf but they knew what they were talking about.
Shepherd is undefeated. And the Rams stayed that way last Thursday in Fairmont when they made uncharacteristic mistakes, fell behind by two touchdowns, marched 94 yards for a fourth-quarter score and blunted a late-game drive by the Fighting Falcons to finally prevail, 28-23.
It was short preparation time for the Rams. The game against Fairmont was on the road and it was Shepherd’s only night game of the 2017 season.
But some inner strength gave the Rams, now 6-0, the hard-won upper hand.
It wasn’t the most dazzling on-field performance. Things went wrong.
However, it was easily Shepherd’s most impressive performance of the season.
Shepherd simply doesn’t cede four turnovers to any opponent. There were two lost fumbles and two lost interceptions to the Fighting Falcons. Shepherd doesn’t have punts blocked. Antonio Harris blocked Ruan Venter’s third-quarter punt.
Fairmont, a loser to East Stroudsburg and Notre Dame while moving to a 4-2 record, limited the Rams to 28 points, and Shepherd’s lowest scoring total in its first five games was 42 points.
Interceptions by Tre Anderson, DeJuan Neal and Raughn Carter got three of the turnovers back from the Fighting Falcons.
The drama was set in motion when Fairmont claimed a 14-0 lead, its second score coming on an interception-return touchdown of 37 yards by Naiquan Thomas that helped inflame most of the announced crowd of about 1,300.
Shepherd immediately rose from the gnarled artificial turf at Duvall-Rosier Field and scored the game’s next three touchdowns.
Connor Jessop threw 13 yards to Wanya Allen, Jessop found diminutive Ryan Feiss for six yards and just 28 seconds before halftime Patrick Griffin scored on a two-yard run to give the Rams a 21-14 edge.
Soon enough in the third quarter Fairmont had a successful field goal and a scoring pass to move back ahead, 23-21.
It was then that Rams drove a dramatic and long-to-be-remembered 94 yards with Jessop throwing to tight end D.J. Cornish from the Fairmont six to shove the Rams back on top, 28-23.
Fairmont was far from finished.
With two timeouts left, the Fighting Falcons took a final possession at their 31 with 2:31 remaining.
Two big-yardage plays were mostly responsible for Fairmont reaching the Shepherd 17 with a first down.
Shepherd’s unblemished and unscarred record was on the brink of being blemished and scarred.
But the Rams held. Four consecutive Fairmont passes fell incomplete.
Only 25 seconds remained.
Shepherd had lost four turnovers and had a punt blocked, but it didn’t beat itself with penalties. For the first time in at least 30 games the Rams were flagged for only 39 yards on seven infractions.
The weekly heroics of linebacker James Gupton and defensive end Myles Humphrey were important again. Both had eight tackles.
The Rams are back home tomorrow when Urbana is the conference opponent at Ram Stadium at 12-noon.
Unbeaten. Untied. Ranked second nationally.
Shepherd found the internal magic and the external playmaking to ease past rugged Fairmont.
It’s true what an old-timer once said: An unbeaten team will find the ways to send potential defeat to the woodshed.