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Shepherd spies playoffs ahead if it can win last three

By Staff | Oct 31, 2014

The first NCAA Division II Super Region football rankings were revealed this week.

With a loss two weeks ago to Notre Dame of Ohio, the fortunes of once-unbeaten Shepherd became clouded. It was the Rams’ first loss after six wins to begin the season, but the one-point setback meant Shepherd probably has to win all three of its final games to claim another in what would be an unbroken series of playoff appearances.

Shepherd is 6-1 after being dealt its first-ever loss in its two seasons in the Mountain East Conference.

That lone defeat was a significant one and could cost the Rams another playoff berth.

This week, the year’s first Super Region ratings were revealed. Only the top six teams in the postseason ratings will reach the Super Region playoffs.

Shepherd was ranked seventh. The Rams have conference games remaining against Glenville, West Virginia State and unbeaten Concord. Should the Rams win all three of those remaining games they would qualify for another round of Super Region playoff game(s).

The NCAA Division II conferences that reside in the same region as Shepherd are the Mountain East, the Pennsylvania State Athletic, the Central Intercollegiate Athletic and the Northeast-10.

Only a total of six teams reach the Super Region playoffs.

This season’s initial Super Region rankings have unbeatens Bloomsburg and Concord ranked first and second.

Once-beatens California (Pa.), West Chester, and Winston-Salem State occupy the three-through-five positions.

Ranked sixth in this first poll was American International of the Northeast-10 Conference.

For any team to be selected for the postseason playoffs it must finish in the top six of the final poll, which will be conducted following the games played on Saturday, November 15, or be its conference champion.

Shepherd, with its 6-1 record, was just behind American International, and rated seventh.

The Rams, who lost a one-point verdict on the road at Notre Dame (Ohio) in their last game, were ranked 22nd in the latest national poll of Division II teams.

That same national poll had Bloomsburg ranked sixth, Winston-Salem State was 11th, Concord 15th and West Chester was 20th.

If Shepherd can finish with a 9-1 record it will qualify once again for the national playoffs and finish no worse than in a tie for first place in the Mountain East Conference.

The first step in its quest for still another NCAA Division II playoff berth comes this week at Homecoming when the Rams face Glenville, an up-and-coming team that has three straight wins to improve its overall record to 4-4. Last week, the Pioneers defeated Notre Dame. Shepherd was idle last week.

Shepherd’s future seems based more in its pass defense than any other facet of the team. But Notre Dame had five touchdown passes, three of them of the “home run” variety, to deal the Rams a numbing 35-34 loss on the road in South Euclid, Ohio.

The Rams could not manage a sack against Notre Dame quarterback Ray Russ.

Without some consistent, game-long pressure on opposition passers, Shepherd can be vulnerable.

Two fumbled turnovers were costly against Notre Dame. Shepherd does not often cause its own harm On Saturday at Ram Stadium, the 12-noon start will show the assembled thousands the season’s coolest temperatures and a Shepherd team backed into a corner by its mistakes and the lone loss at Notre Dame.

Glenville comes to town with its three straight conference wins and its plans to minimize Shepherd runners Allen Cross and Jabre Lolley. The Rams counter with linebackers Octavius Thomas, James Gupton, Levi Barber and De’Ontre Johnson.

Shepherd emotions should be sizzling.

Beating the Rams before packed houses at Ram Stadium is a herculean task for any visiting team — especially now that the Rams have no room for another error if they want to see another playoff road out ahead of them.