Rams belt Charleston with second half surge
“Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown”. That adage belongs in a world peopled by royalty. And in the Division II football world of the Mountain East Conference, Shepherd is the royalty once again.
In dispatching Charleston, 49-12, last Saturday at filled-to-overflowing Ram Stadium, Shepherd clinched its third consecutive league championship and fourth in the scant five-year history of the conference.
With this week’s long trip to Virginia-Wise that completes the conference schedule, the Rams are now 9-0 overall and within reach of a school-record third straight unbeaten regular season record. Shepherd has now won 29 straight Mountain East games and will enter another NCAA playoff November/December if it can secure a victory over the Highland Cavaliers.
The “uneasy” part of the adage concerning reigning royalty could be applied to the first half of Saturday’s win over the Golden Eagles. Shepherd’s uncomfortable lead at halftime was just 14-12 after it suffered through two intercepted passes, was gouged for a 71-yard scoring run, had little success running against the stacked interior of the Charleston defense and was bitten by two penalties – one that nullified an apparent touchdown and another a late hit that provided Charleston with a first down on the Rams’ one.
No cosmetics or platitudes could cover the Shepherd blemishes of the first half.
But then the second half started.
And when Brandon Moneypenny recovered a lost Charleston fumble on the half’s kickoff, Shepherd was ready to show the game was going to be a tale of two completely different halves.
Three plays after the fumble recovery, Jabre Lolley took a 16-yard swing pass to a touchdown – the first of three scores the now fast-moving Rams had in the breakout third quarter. Connor Jessop ran 35 yards on a well-designed keeper to extend the Shepherd lead to 28-12 and then Lolley was off on a 56-yard run through the startled Charleston interior, and Shepherd had taken a 35-12 lead.
Charleston was scrambling just to get first downs with its beleaguered offense.
Soon enough the count had risen to 49-12 as D.J. Cornish cleared the way for Deonte Glover to go 21 yards with a Jessop pass and the coup de grace was applied to the delight of every cast member of the unbeaten Rams when senior offensive tackle Levonte Hights accepted a long lateral from Jessop and cruised 15 yards to the first points of his much-decorated career.
Although ranked second in the nation in a coach’s poll, Shepherd remains only third in its region in the only such rating that has any meaning. There will be seven teams called to the Super Region One playoffs, and if the Rams continue to be placed third by the NCAA they would have a home game to begin the playoffs at noon on Saturday, Nov. 18, at Ram Stadium.
Even if Virginia-Wise were to tame the Rams, Shepherd would still join the playoff field but could have to go on the road to play its opener.
The unfettered 2017 conference championship was Shepherd’s 17th such title under the guidance of Coach Monte Cater. And it came with Jessop throwing for four scores and 317 yards, Ryan Feiss getting 10 receptions for 115 yards, Lolley getting to 1,002 rushing yards in the first nine games, Jessop reaching the 34 touchdown passes plateau for the season – already a school record for a single season, James Gupton making 11 tackles and the Ram defense yielding just 50 passing yards to the Golden Eagles.
The Senior Day/Military Day crowd in excess of 5,200 had been treated – late – to a moving pre-game ceremony, a fly over by a military transport airplane and a perfect football-weather afternoon as the Rams used a 35-0 scoring avalanche in the second half to keep their record unblemished by a loss.