Rams return to chase playoff dreams
When last seen, Shepherd was moving past Notre Dame, 43-14, in its Homecoming game two weeks ago. Several starters were missing with injuries and others were slowed during the satisfying win over the Falcons.
On Oct. 3, the Rams rested, beneficiaries of an “open date”. The injured had more time to get healthy before this week’s Mountain East Conference game in Glenville against the once-beaten Pioneers.
In one national coach’s poll, Shepherd moved ahead to 14th, and that’s the highest ranking of any team in its Super Region One.
The Rams are 4-0 and Glenville is 4-1 after sliding past Notre Dame, 38-30, on the road in South Euclid, Ohio last week.
Saturday’s game at Morris Stadium in Gilmer County has a 1 p.m. start and might see the winner claim the 2015 conference championship and receive the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Division II playoffs in late November.
Glenville has wins over Urbana, West Virginia Wesleyan, Virginia-Wise and Notre Dame. Its lone loss was a 31-30 setback suffered to Charleston in Charleston.
After its five games, the Pioneers are gouging opponents for 510 yards of total offense per game. They have averaged 295 yards passing and 215 yards rushing per game. Opponents have just one interception of the many Pioneer passes. But there have been 117 penalty yards per game assessed against Glenville.
Urbana is winless. West Virginia Wesleyan is winless. And Virginia-Wise is winless. Yet the five opponents have averaged 364 yards of offense per game against the once-beaten Pioneers.
Rahmann Lee has been Glenville’s main offensive threat for years now. His 817 rushing yards in five games were greatly augmented by over 400 ground yards in one game alone.
Glenville’s much-preferred pass offense has seen receivers Dante Absher (33 catches and eight scores) and Ralph Gordon (28 catches and 396 yards) lead the way.
The Glenville defense has registered 21 sacks and its offense has seen opponents get 16 sacks.
Shepherd has averaged 43 points a game while going 4-0 through its early-season schedule. Most often a believer in running past its opposition, the 2015 version of the Rams is averaging 313 passing yards a game and yet quarterback Jeff Ziemba has yet to throw an intercepted pass. Billy Brown has been Ziemba’s primary target, but in the 29-point win over Notre Dame at Homecoming, Brown didn’t have any receptions. Angelo Jean-Louis and Tony Squirewell have also been on the receiving end of touchdown passes.
Shepherd’s usually sturdy defense has seven interceptions and has allowed only two touchdown passes in four games.
The Rams have eight sacks and have needed the useful depth its defense has because of injuries to linebackers Octavius Thomas and James Gupton, who both have missed games.
Up front, the Rams have been able to find enough reliable players to do some substituting throughout games.
Myles Humphrey and Shaneil Jenkins as well as linebackers and secondary choices Jaylen Johnson, Tre Anderson, Keon Robinson, C.J. Davis, Tre Sullivan and Gupton have been mainstays on a defense that has limited the beaten teams to about 12 points a game.
Kicking specialist Ryan Earls has made eight of his nine field goal attempts, his only miss being blocked.
Glenville will want to establish Lee, yet win the game through the air. Shepherd has won repeatedly with its “few turnovers” philosophy, its monopoly of the clock, a reliable defense and keeping opponents unaware of where it will strike next.
Penalties have been too prevalent in both camps.
Glenville is coming off a huge win on the road. Shepherd is hoping to gets its most important players back on the field without a limp or a too-nagging injury.
The Rams have been able to loose return specialist Davis for momentum-gaining or momentum-turning points.
The artificial turf in Glenville is the site. Which team can make the fewest mistakes and force its will on the other side? That team will be at the top of the Mountain East heap at the day’s sweaty conclusion.