Neither rain nor lightning nor Charleston deter Shepherd
After a determined rain and bout of lightning had delayed the start of Shepherd’s home opener for more than an hour, visiting Charleston must have thought the Mountain East Conference afternoon had seen enough fireworks and unusual happenings.
But on the first play, Shepherd’s A.J. Davis returned the kickoff some 96 yards in a bolt of blue and gold lightning that were the first points in the Rams’ 45-25 victory over the point-drenched Golden Eagles. The weather-delayed win improved Shepherd’s record to 2-0 and left the Golden Eagles at 1-1.
Once the rain stopped and the lightning departed, it never rained again, however Shepherd actually intercepted six passes thrown by Charleston quarterbacks Jeremy Johnson, Mason Olszewski and kicker Brett Benes. Two of the stolen passes came on conversion tries following Charleston touchdowns.
The Rams scored three touchdowns and had a Ryan Earls’ 40-yard field goal on four of their first five possessions. Success on third- and fourth-down plays helped immensely in Shepherd being able to earn a 31-15 lead at the half. Six of 10 third-down plays were converted into first downs as was the only fourth-down try.
Staying relatively penalty-free in the opening half, Shepherd had used Billy Brown’s five pass receptions for 78 yards and had scores on two Jeff Ziemba-to-Tony Squirewell passes and a Ziemba-to-Lue Sokoya touchdown pass. Brown’s only catch in the second half was a 41-yard scoring throw from Ziemba.
Interceptions of Charleston passes led to both Shepherd touchdowns in the second half. Keon Robinson’s theft and long return were turned into points when Brown forced his way through a would-be tackler en route to his 41-yard score. And Tre Sullivan picked off a Olszewski throw and brought it back to the Charleston 10 . . . from where Allen Cross took only two attempts to reach the end zone, lifting the Rams to a 45-22 lead in the last period.
It was not a smooth as polished glass win for the nationally-ranked Rams.
A field goal attempt was blocked, punter Ruan Venter dropped a perfect snap and lost six yards when he ran, Charleston’s Torie Wagner had a 63-yard kickoff return, long penalties piled up in the second half, the Golden Eagles rushed for more than 130 yards and had 319 yards of total offense . . . and the Rams never could show their trademark ground offense, only getting grudging yards against the Charleston defense.
The Shepherd positives were: no turnovers, another useful passing game and a depth-filled defense that featured all those pass interceptions and leading tacklers James Gupton, Cameron Reynolds (a non-starter), Myles Humphrey, Octavius Thomas, Jaylen Johnson and C.J. Davis (a non-starter).
The rain and thunderstorm finally went elsewhere, and Shepherd did enough to make the late afternoon record read: Shepherd two wins, no losses.