Shepherd vs. West Chester: Exactly what the Rams sought in the PSAC
SHEPHERDSTOWN — Unbeaten. Nationally ranked. A steel-girded tradition of winning and ending seasons in the national playoffs. That’s West Chester.
A recent skein of three straight unbeaten regular seasons. Winning its way into the national championship game. Large crowds jamming Ram Stadium. That’s Shepherd.
Tomorrow’s collision featuring Shepherd against visiting West Chester is just what the Rams wanted when they exited the MEC to join the football dignity brought by the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference.
At 6-0 so far in 2019, West Chester has trampled Gannon, Seton Hill and Millersville and won by close scores against Bentley, Shippensburg and just last week versus Bloomsburg.
The Golden Rams have allowed only 11 points a game in their six wins. Ch’alm Smith has 29 tackles, 12.5 tackles for lost yardage and 6.5 sacks. Redshirt freshman Ja’Den McKenzie has eight touchdowns and 457 rushing yards.
But quarterbacks Paul Dooley (eight interceptions and just six touchdown throws) and Mike Piperno (two touchdowns, three interceptions and 274 passing yards) could hold the keys to any West Chester success against the Rams. Piperno took over the sputtering offense last week in the second quarter in the shading of Bloomsburg, a team with a 1-5 overall record.
The Shepherd game begins a rigid three-week series of tests for the Golden Rams. On Oct. 26, they host once-beaten East Stroudsburg and then on Nov. 2 unbeaten Kutztown comes to West Chester.
Shepherd’s overall 4-2 record includes close losses at home against Ohio Dominican and Kutztown. Its wins were a pulsating 32-30 verdict over Shippensburg, a five-point season-opening victory at Mercyhurst, a clubbing of Lock Haven and a comfortable win at Clarion.
The leading lights in the Shepherd season have been linebacker Chrys Lane, wide receiver Dylan Brewer, quarterback Tyson Bagent, offensive lineman Keandre Babson, receivers Devin Phelps and DJ Cornish, running back Deonte Glover and linebacker Ponce Deleon.
West Chester is a nationally known commodity. A large school with over 16,000 students, the suburban Philadelphia college has fielded winning football teams for decades.
Shepherd won its spurs with superior performances in post-season playoff wins over Grand Valley State (Michigan), Indiana (Pa.), California (Pa.), Slippery Rock (Pa.), Kutztown and any team it saw from the Northeast-10 Conference.
A spot in the NCAA Division II national championship game in 2015 drew deserved attention to Shepherd football. And then that season was followed by unbeaten regular seasons and lofty national rankings in both 2016 and 2017.
Shepherd, Kutztown, East Stroudsburg and West Chester are embroiled in a slugfest at the top of the East Division race. The survivor will play in the PSAC championship game on Nov. 16. Slippery Rock (unbeaten at 6-0), Indiana (now 5-1) and California (now 4-2) have outdistanced the other five teams in the West Division.
Shepherd’s thinking was that it wanted this kind of game when it joined the PSAC.
Now it has it, on its home grounds before its home crowd, with time-tested West Chester on a mid-October Saturday that seems to revel in this kind of college rivalry.