Rams taking care of Mountain East business
After 14 games in the Mountain East Conference, a Shepherd football team has never tasted defeat. The Rams were 9-0 during their tour through the league in 2013 and have won all five games so far this season.
A conference championship was Shepherd’s when it outscored Concord in Athens to complete an undefeated 2013 regular season as the top-ranked team in the region.
On Saturday, the Rams host UVa.-Wise in a 12-noon game that will pit Shepherd’s stingy defense against the Cavaliers from far southwestern Virginia. UVa.-Wise is winless in its first five games.
As the first half of the 2014 season melted off the schedule, Shepherd had gained road wins at West Liberty, Urbana and Charleston and defeated Fairmont and West Virginia Wesleyan at home.
Among the other 10 Mountain East football-playing schools, only Concord remained unbeaten. The high-scoring Mountain Lions had edged Bowie State by three points in their only non-conference game and were 4-0 against league opponents.
Notre Dame College and Charleston had one loss each, Charleston falling, 24-15, to Shepherd at Laidley Field last weekend.
Shepherd has allowed only 42 points in its five games. Special teams troubles have allowed opponents to return two kickoffs for scores and another touchdown came against the Rams when a blocked field goal was returned for points.
No team has done much against the Shepherd defense, especially when attempting to run against the Rams. In last week’s win over Charleston, the Golden Bears managed just 16 yards on the ground. And Shepherd still has the best defense against the run in the nation.
The Shepherd corps of linebackers — Octavius Thomas, Levi Barber, De’Ontre Johnson, James Gupton and Jaylen Johnson — have often been seen gang-tackling opponents when they try to run between the ends. And no team has thrown for much of anything against a secondary composed of C.J. Davis, Phillip Rhoden, David Carter and Tre Sullivan.
After losing all four of its defensive linemen from the 2013 team, the Rams have already molded a run-stopping group from Shaneil Jenkins, Bernard Wolley, Myles Humphrey, Stephen Francois, Shaquille Melvin, Tatah Ndeh, Rudie Henderson and Demetrius Dixon.
If it wants to make another visit to the NCAA Division II playoffs, then Shepherd must win at least nine games because the Mountain East Conference does not have an automatic bid to the postseason. Even nine wins might not be enough because the PSAC, CIAA and Northeast-10 conferences all have automatic bids to the six-team playoffs.
The PSAC has unbeaten teams in West Chester, Bloomsburg and Slippery Rock and that league could supply four playoff teams if both Shepherd and Concord lose one game each. California and East Stroudsburg of the PSAC still have only one loss.
After playing the Cavaliers on Saturday at Ram Stadium, Shepherd travels to South Euclid, Ohio to face Notre Dame College on Oct. 18. The game against Notre Dame College will be Shepherd’s fourth road trip and leave it with only West Virginia State as the last road opponent of the 2014 season.
Glenville comes to Shepherdstown on Nov. 1 and Concord is at Ram Stadium on Nov. 15 in the last game of the regular season. Concord has not yet played Charleston.
The Rams were ranked No.9 in the country following last week’s win over previously undefeated Charleston.
And when UVa.-Wise leaves Shepherdstown for its long overland bus ride back to its campus, the Rams can begin total preparation for the pass offense they will see in Ohio next week when the Falcons provide the overhead opponent in South Euclid, a stone’s throw from Lake Erie and downtown Cleveland.