Shepherd continues unbroken march beating Wise
Quietly. Always quietly.
Shepherd is careful to let others with off-field duties do the trumpet blowing for its unbeaten football team.
It’s on game-day Saturdays where the Rams have a smothering defense and a mostly high-scoring offense that let the Mountain East Conference scoreboards do much of the talking.
Now 6-0 in 2014 after trouncing U-Va.-Wise, 51-0, the Rams had another almost-patented afternoon where their defense shackled a conference opponent that could not run the football against them.
UVa.-Wise managed just nine rushing yards on an afternoon where overnight rain and a thick cloud cover kept the Hall of Fame crowd at Ram Stadium to a little over 3,200. Even with its passing yardage added to its meager rushing statistic, the Highland Cavaliers had just over 100 yards of total offense and had become Shepherd’s second shutout victim of the season.
Shepherd’s reputation — earned over decades of success under Coach Monte Cater — as a team that loves to grind teams under with its own rushing attack was not lost on the Highland Cavaliers.
Determined to keep Shepherd somewhat in check with its complete concentration on holding the Ram runners in check, UVa.-Wise often gave the nursing-injuries Ram offensive line more defenders than it could block.
That strategy did manage to silence much of the Rams’ ground noise . . . but it became only a pyrrhic victory because Shepherd quarterback Jeff Ziemba riddled the Virginians with four touchdown passes in the first half alone.
Ziemba found four different receivers on scoring passes, three of them of considerable length — 63 yards to William McKenzie, 27 yards to Billy Brown, 14 yards to Tony Squirewell and 57 yards to Allen Cross. Shepherd had four Ziemba touchdown passes in moving stealthily away to a 28-0 halftime lead.
In all, Ziemba completed all but five of his 21 passes and has an over 70 percent completion rate and no interceptions this season.
The Rams completed the rout in the second half when C.J. Davis returned a punt about 60 yards for an early third quarter score, Jabre Lolley had a seven-yard run, Malik Harleston grabbed a 58-yard scoring pass from Caleb Dembeck and the Highland Cavaliers ceded a safety when a poor snap on an attempted punt was kicked through the back of their end zone for the last of the Shepherd points.
The Rams had no turnovers while the Virginians suffered interceptions at the hands of De’Ontre Johnson and David Carter and muffed a punt that the Rams claimed near midfield.
Youngsters James Gupton (redshirt freshman) and Octavius Thomas (sophomore) paced the Shepherd tacklers.
The Rams never allowed UVa.-Wise to get within shouting distance of their goal line.
So dominant was Shepherd that it flooded the turf at Ram Stadium with all manner of reserves. Freshman running back Trenton Cannon entered very late in the third quarter, yet ended his brief stay with 13 carries, eight of them in succession just before Ryan Earls missed a 31-yard field goal attempt.
The Highland Cavaliers remained winless and were 0-6.
This week, the Rams bus their way to South Euclid, Ohio (just outside Cleveland) to face pass-happy Notre Dame College and quarterback Ray Russ. Notre Dame has just two losses, one of them last week in a 42-35 defeat against non-conference opponent Lake Erie.
The Rams are the eighth-ranked NCAA Division II team in the country and continue to be atop the conference with equally unbeaten Concord. Shepherd and Concord won’t meet until the season’s last Saturday Nov. 15 at Ram Stadium.
You won’t hear Shepherd proclaiming its grip on the Mountain East. Or about its lofty national ranking.
But opponents have scored only 42 points against the Rams in six games. And 21 of those points were caused by special teams mistakes . . . and not because any team found much offense against the Shepherd defense.