Findlay controls ball, ends Rams’ season
Findlay was relentless.
The Ohio-based Oilers knew where Shepherd’s weaknesses were and they continually exploited them in Saturday’s chilled and dank playoff conditions at Ram Stadium.
As a light rain fell at times on the teams, it was Findlay that prospered most, running right at the interior of the Rams’ defensive line and using a pair of wide receivers that towered over Shepherd to complete enough passes to completely control the clock.
Though Shepherd managed an eight-point lead at halftime, the Oilers had already begun to play “keep away” from the Rams.
Findlay had 52 plays in the opening half to Shepherd’s 28.
By the time Findlay’s 29-17 win was finalized and posted, the Oilers had managed 98 offensive plays to Shepherd’s 52, and the upstart visitors had controlled the ball for 41:11, as compared to Shepherd’s 18:49 time of possession.
With the huge advantage in number of plays, Findlay had 34 first downs, 277 rushing yards, 571 yards of total offense and a date tomorrow in Massachusetts to face Assumption – a winner over California in another first-round game.
From the gloomy-day outset, Shepherd could not contain bullish running back Daouda Sylla, who would amass more than 200 rushing yards himself. Findlay’s interior line would regularly clear a path past Shepherd’s interchangeable defensive tackles and allow Daouda to reach the Ram linebackers. Forced to keep Sylla from running unchallenged for more yards, Shepherd linebacker James Gupton and safety Shane Wilkins had the highest number of stops for the beleaguered Rams. Gupton had 16 tackles and Wilkins 10 as Shepherd’s defense stayed on the wet field far too long.
When desiring to throw, Findlay at first went to 6-foot-3, 218-pound Jason Moore. And when Moore was slightly injured and couldn’t return, the Oilers repeatedly threw to 6-foot-5, 234-pound Andrew Ogletree. Shepherd’s much smaller cornerbacks never stopped the Findlay receivers who stretched high for passes, out of reach of the shorter Ram defenders.
Despite being outscored 20-0 in the “keep away” second half, Shepherd still had its chances to solve an awkward position, where it found itself backed into a dreary corner.
After two Findlay scores had pushed the Rams backward and trailing, Shepherd moved goalward for the only time in the last half as the third quarter faded.
With a first-and-goal situation at the Findlay 8-yard line, Ram quarterback Connor Jessop threw into solid coverage at the goal line, and was intercepted at the one.
The Oilers put on further display of their ownership of the afternoon.
From the one, Findlay moved quickly away from imminent trouble with its offensive line clearing openings for Sylla. After two first downs – and still clinging to a 23-17 lead – the Oilers faced a fourth-and-one problem at the Shepherd 31.
After attempting to draw the Rams offside, Findlay called a timeout to avoid a delay of game penalty. When the Ohioans returned to the huddle their offense was still intact. And from the 31, Sylla ran straight ahead for 13 yards and a vital first down.
Just moments later, a 52-yard TD pass from Rhys Gervais to Airion Kosak extended both Findlay’s lead and Shepherd’s unsolved, game-long troubles.
Shepherd had been resilient throughout the first half. Even though the Oilers had prolonged possessions, Shepherd had forced them to settle for field goals – not yielding any touchdowns.
Ryan Feiss (eight catches for 81 yards) and Wanya Allen had taken Jessop touchdown passes. And Zach Wise had booted a 32-yard field goal to help the Rams to a 17-9 lead at intermission.
As had been the case in the first half, the Rams could never menace the Oilers with their ground offense in the score-shifting second half.
Shepherd had mauled nearly every regular-season foe with a deluge of second-half points. In Saturday’s damp conditions, it was Findlay’s offensive mastery that held sway.
The Rams had a marvelous third consecutive undefeated regular-season mastery of the Mountain East Conference.
But it was Findlay that had the broadest smiles in the aftermath of last Saturday’s final game of Shepherd’s ultra-successful 2017 season.