Shepherd back after annual honors and possible playoff berth
After two years in the still youthful Mountain East Conference, Shepherd has an 18-2 record in the league as well as one conference championship and earning the same national rankings, playoff bids and attention-getting seasons it had in the old WVIAC.
Coach Monte Cater will start his 29th season at Shepherd when the Rams begin chasing honors, a championship and a long string of wins on Saturday on the road at West Virginia Wesleyan.
Cater has amassed 14 conference titles in his 28 years in Shepherdstown. He has led his Rams to 10 postseason berths.
In the last 11 games against the Bobcats, Shepherd has won 10 of them.
The last two games were against George Shehl-coached Bobcat teams . . . and neither game was close, both resulting in convincing Shepherd wins. This will be Shehl’s third season in Buckhannon.
As in the immediate past, Shepherd will again have more useful depth and a defense that has severely limited West Virginia Wesleyan’s rushing offense. Even though the Bobcats had a 2014 offensive line pieced together entirely with underclassmen, Shepherd will again make gaining meaningful ground yards by the Bobcats a near impossibility.
Although they haven’t shown their opponents in recent years a true breakaway running back who receives many carries, the Rams annually run successfully when playing the Bobcats.
Even with only Lavonte Hights and Brandon Wooten returning as starters along its offensive line, Shepherd does have some useful depth in that area this season.
Wide receiver Billy Brown is one of the Mountain East’s best and Cater can use runners Allen Cross, Jabre Lolley and Mailik Harleston to batter the Bobcat defense.
Historically, it has been Shepherd’s defense against the run that has become a hallmark of the team.
Some teams have been able to throw successfully against the four-man Shepherd rush, but those times have usually come in the playoffs or in conference games where the Shepherd point totals have been enough to win.
Shepherd’s front seven of playmaking defenders will be effective and disruptive once again.
Linebackers James Gupton, Octavius Thomas and Jaylen Johnson can augment the run-stopping power of those linemen in front of them, including Shaneil Jenkins, Myles Humphrey, and Tatah Ndeh ( a first-year regular in the Rams’ rotation).
Should the Rams show improvement from last year’s 8-2 record it will be forced by an influx of useful transfers, some from easily recognized football programs.
Those transfers will add able depth to the defense, especially if they replace returning players on the depth chart.
Shepherd’s four special teams were less than noteworthy in 2014 . . . and their lessened quality was seen too often — even in several wins.
West Virginia Wesleyan has a first-year starter at quarterback, but could return its entire stock of linebackers and defensive secondary starters. Even if all the players it fielded in 2014 return en masse, Shepherd still has more talent, more sheer athleticism and its defensive front seven to force the Bobcats into mistakes and 10 or more punts on the afternoon.