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Conference title, playoffs could still be in Shepherd’s future

By Staff | Oct 31, 2014

Shepherd didn’t play last week. While the Rams made plans for this week’s Homecoming game against suddenly potent Glenville there were happenings all around the region that affected where the Shepherd season may go.

In the Mountain East Conference, unbeaten Concord edged Charleston to remain atop the league standings. Glenville topped Notre Dame, winning for the third straight time. Notre Dame is the team that handed Shepherd a one-point loss on its home field in the suburbs of Cleveland. The Falcons now have three losses.

In the CIAA, both Virginia Union and Virginia State now have two losses and wouldn’t be selected over Shepherd for a Super Region playoff berth if the Rams can finish with only one loss. Winston-Salem State is the likely champion of the CIAA.

In the PSAC, East Stroudsburg suffered a second loss and California and Slippery Rock both have two losses. Indiana now has three losses. In a game featuring two unbeaten teams, Bloomsburg bounced West Chester — the team that defeated Shepherd in last year’s Division II national quarterfinals.

And in the Northeast-10, every team has at least two losses although some defeats were dealt by Division I schools.

There are only six teams selected to play in the Super Region playoffs. The CIAA and Northeast-10 champions are assured bids. And the PSAC champion gets an automatic bid. The Mountain East Conference does not get an automatic bid since it is only in its second year of existence.

Should West Chester complete its season with just one loss, it would receive a bid to the playoffs where it would join Bloomsburg again.

If Shepherd tops Glenville, West Virginia State and then Concord in its Nov. 15 game against the Mountain Lions then the Rams will be invited to the playoffs with their one loss.

Finding the ways to put the harmful loss to Notre Dame behind it and see the imminent danger presented by Glenville is Shepherd’s mental challenge this week. Giving up five touchdown passes while never sacking Notre Dame quarterback Ray Russ certainly should have gotten the Rams’ attention.

No team has run against the Rams. But if an opponent can find five touchdown passes and never suffer a sack or an interception like happened against Notre Dame those rushing statistics won’t mean much.

Shepherd fumbled five times against Notre Dame and lost two of them, including quarterback Jeff Ziemba’s bobble recovered by the Falcons on their own 12 with Shepherd trailing 35-34.

The Rams later reached the Notre Dame 17 in the fading seconds, but could get no closer and then missed a 34-yard field goal to swallow the bitter pill of defeat.

The loss was the first in Mountain East play after going 15-0 in Shepherd’s other conference games.

Glenville comes in to Ram Stadium with a 4-4 record and all-conference running back Rahmann Lee. Lee usually gets over 100 yards rushing and last week was a double threat with his 70-plus yards on pass receptions.

In years past, Shepherd could trump many a team with its special teams play. But in 2014, the Rams haven’t blocked punts or field goal attempts and have loosed C.J. Davis on very few punt or kickoff returns. Opponents have three kick-return touchdowns against the Rams.

Shepherd is at home. Even with the weather retreating to its usual early November temperatures in the low- to mid-40s, there should be a crowd in the 5,000 range to see if the Rams can rebound or whether Glenville can win its fourth straight game.

Shepherd’s fate was not ruined by Notre Dame. Only its attempt to secure a second straight unbeaten regular season was derailed by Russ and company.

Can the Rams bother Glenville’s sophomore quarterback? Can they keep Lee from doing them harm with his pass catching antics? Will the Shepherd special teams contribute at all? A second loss denies the Rams a conference championship and probably a bid to another Super Region playoff scene.