Shepherd shows its defense to West Virginia Wesleyan
To beat Shepherd, some team will either have to find ways to run against it . . . or like West Chester did last year in the NCAA Division II playoffs, take the Rams’ offensive mistakes to touchdowns.
West Virginia Wesleyan could do neither. And the visiting Bobcats were mauled, 56-7, by the shutdown Shepherd defense and its cohorts, the Shepherd special teams.
After a series of penalties against the Rams on the Bobcats’ first drive paved the way to Jeremy Musselman’s 15-yard scramble to a score, the Rams drowned the Bobcats with the game’s last 56 points.
Shepherd scored in almost every way possible.
To quickly erase West Virginia Wesleyan’s seven-point lead, Shepherd return artist C.J. Davis took the ensuing kickoff and rolled through the wave of would-be tacklers to a 91-yard touchdown return. It was a 7-7 game.
But not for long in the marathon-like first quarter.
After a quick exchange of punts, Shepherd linebacker Octavius Thomas scooped up a Musselman fumble and darted 20 yards to Shepherd’s go-ahead points.
From then on, the Bobcats saw their chances fade dismally in the bright sunshine at mostly-full Ram Stadium. Shepherd’s tailights grew more faint in the distance when Davis intercepted a Musselman throw and made a 69-yard return to the West Virginia Wesleyan 11. Jabre Lolley bulled over from the one for a 21-7 lead.
A pair of 15-yard penalties against the Bobcats helped the Rams score again when Allen Cross went four yards very early in the second period.
On their next ownership, the Rams got a career-long 45-yard field goal from Ryan Earls to move farther away from the flagging Bobcats at 30-7.
David Carter thieved another Musselman throw and ran it to the Bobcat five. Lolley ran across from there and the sunstreaked scoreboard read, 37-7, with time enough before halftime for more Shepherd defensive heroics.
Phillip Rhoden gave Shepherd the third interception of a Musselman pass. After a pass completition covered 22 yards, quarterback Jeff Ziemba found a lonely Dalton Boyd for a 38-yard pass-catch TD . . . and a substantial 44-7 Shepherd lead at the intermission.
West Virginia Wesleyan had three rushing yards at halftime. And Shepherd had a 37-point lead.
In the Shepherd-controlled second half, the Rams managed the first points when they used a lengthy, 12-play drive to finally position themselves for Earls’ 42-yard field goal.
Scoring in still another way, the Rams smothered reserve Wesleyan runner Ray Myers in his own end zone for a two-point safety . . . and a 49-7 Shepherd lead.
Waterbug-like Shepherd redshirt freshman running back Malik Harleston broke through the Bobcat defense for a 69-yard run from scrimmage as the Rams flooded the field with reserves at every turn, as did the Bobcats. It was 56-7 with half of the fourth quarter left.
There was no more scoring.
Shepherd had muzzled the Bobcat offense, whose only meaningful offensive play after its first drive came when Shepherd jumped offsides on a punt and Wesleyan took advantage of it to run for 38 yards. Shepherd held a secure 56-7 lead at the time.
This week, the Rams travel the six hours to Charleston to face the University of Charleston Golden Eagles at Laidley Field.
The same defense the Rams showed in holding their first four vanquished opponents to just a total of 27 points between them will be needed again because the Golden Eagles were 3-0 after their first three games.
Shepherd is ranked 11th nationally in a Division II coach’s poll. It’s defense against the run is ranked first in the country.
And West Virginia Wesleyan did nothing to damage that statistic.