‘Thin Blue Line’ prevails against Urbana
The “Thin Blue Line” may as well be Shepherd’s nickname.
As an NCAA Division II school, the Rams are allowed by rule only so many athletic scholarships. Without the funding for the maximum allowed scholarships, Shepherd must do with fewer waivers and grants than other Division II schools in the region have at their disposal.
Fewer scholarships mean a lack of depth at several positions on both offense and defense.
That lack of depth was clearly evident last Saturday when Shepherd cleared another hurdle on its Mountain East Conference schedule, rolling past Urbana, 48-14, after securing a 45-7 lead by halftime.
Shepherd’s youth-laden and inexperienced defensive secondary had been anchored by senior free safety, Tre Anderson. There is no replacement player even remotely as capable as Anderson.
After just 19 seconds of Saturday’s game, Urbana had a 7-0 lead because Shepherd’s reconfigured secondary had been confused as to where they belonged on Urbana’s first play from scrimmage.
Shepherd’s “Thin Blue Line” of starters had a man missing. And he couldn’t adequately be replaced.
Anderson isn’t the only player the Rams couldn’t replace. There’s James Gupton, Myles Humphrey, Connor Jessop, Ryan Feiss, D.J. Cornish, any of their five interior offensive linemen and punter Ruan Venter.
Urbana, now 3-5 overall, couldn’t replicate their first touchdown because it had dropped passes and had to try to weather a constant pass rush that eventually had six sacks.
Shepherd moved to 7-0 and kept its national coach’s ranking in place at No. 2 in the nation.
Winning from behind was nothing new. Glenville and Fairmont both had two-touchdown leads on the Rams. Even Concord kicked a field goal for the first points in that Shepherd victory.
Once it started its scoring, Shepherd did not rest.
The Rams achieved points on seven straight first-half possessions – six touchdowns and Zach Wise’s first successful field goal of the 2017 season, a 45-yarder that extended the lead to 24-7 in the second quarter.
Touchdowns from Cornish (a four-yard pass from Jessop), Wanya Allen (a 25-yard pass from Jessop) and Allen again on Jessop’s nine-yard scoring throw had the Rams in front, 21-7, after only one period.
Three second-quarter touchdowns came in quick succession as Jabre Lolley took Jessop’s eight-yard swing pass, wide receiver Feiss threw six yards to quarterback Jessop and Jessop scrambled seven yards to boost the mushrooming lead to 45-7.
The anticlimactic second half was more of a training ground for Shepherd’s reserves than anything else.
No starters were injured, keeping most of the “Thin Blue Line’ in playing shape for this week’s road game in Buckhannon against surging West Virginia Wesleyan, a winner of two straight games and owning an upset, 20-13, win over Notre Dame just last Saturday in South Euclid, Ohio. Before that loss, Notre Dame had only been beaten by Shepherd.
Will Anderson return at free safety?
He’s an integral part of the current edition of the “Thin Blue Line.”
And without much more scholarship money, the situation won’t change, and Anderson or so many others won’t be replaced without a meaningful drop-off in talent and performance.