Rams reach third straight undefeated season
The football season continues on for Shepherd.
The Rams continue on an unbeaten trail that brings them back to their home field on Saturday for the opening round of the NCAA Division II playoffs.
When the fading sun in Wise, Virginia, was setting on the 2017 regular season, Shepherd had once again achieved an undefeated record at 10-0, and had stopped 63-35 on an afternoon when penalties, turnovers and rarely-seen happenings befell the Rams.
The 28-point win over the red-clad Highland Cavaliers came a week after Shepherd had already claimed a third consecutive Mountain East Conference championship. The victory was actually Shepherd’s 30th straight in the league and left Coach Monte Cater’s overall record in Mountain East games at 48-2.
In dispatching Wise, the Rams had a 21-0 lead that was extended to 35-7 by halftime when Ryan Feiss grabbed a 25-yard scoring pass from Connor Jessop with 24 seconds left in the second quarter.
Uncharacteristically, the Rams ceded three turnovers. Characteristically, the Rams were penalized 16 times for 141 yards and saw other infractions refused by Wise as well as times when flags were thrown against both teams and the play didn’t count.
There were 30 first downs in Shepherd’s column, while Wise had nine first downs on Shepherd penalties.
The Rams amassed 567 yards of total offense and limited Wise to just 252 yards.
Jessop threw for 386 yards and four touchdowns – giving him 38 touchdown passes for the season and giving him the MEC record for TD passes in a single season. With Jabre Lolley scoring three times and rushing only 13 times (for 99 yards), the Rams left the southwestern Virginia town with memories of a 21-point fourth quarter that doused the Highland Cavalier bid to be spoilers.
Feiss caught 12 of Jessop’s pass completions for 173 yards, leaving him with seven 100-yard-plus games for the year. Wanya Allen had two touchdown catches and totaled 118 yards in receptions.
Jessop wasn’t sacked, but the Rams totaled four sacks against the revolving door of Wise quarterbacks.
The Rams lost two fumbles and Jessop was intercepted once.
After Wise returned the second half kickoff 100 yards for a score that eroded the Shepherd lead to 35-14, the Highland Cavaliers improved their lot even farther by scoring twice in three minutes – one touchdown coming quickly after recovering an onside kick.
With Shepherd holding a 49-35 lead, Lolley broke free on a 44-yard TD run and almost immediately thereafter Chrys Lane scored on a 26-yard interception return to bring the Rams to 63 points. Shepherd had scored 64 points against Wise in 2016.
Defensively, DeJuan Neal, Jared Austin, Myles Humphrey and Lane all had at least seven tackles. Cam Reynolds and Tre Anderson both were credited with six stops.
On Saturday, five of region’s Top 10 teams in the NCAA ratings lost games, including Assumption, Findlay, Slippery Rock, West Chester and Notre Dame. Shepherd and Indiana were the only two teams in Super Region One to complete undefeated seasons.
The Rams avoided any such upheaval, just as they had done in 2016, 2015 and 2013.
And so Ram Stadium will be one of the garden spots of Division II football tomorrow when another playoff game brings a large crowd descending on Shepherdstown, a crowd looking for the offensive-minded and exciting football that Shepherd has made common place in the so-called Super Region One.