Consistent contributions from all over buoy Rams again
Offense. Defense. Special teams. A cast of nearly two dozen players. Shepherd has been getting contributions from all over in its unbeaten season that sees the Rams now ranked ninth in the country by the NCAA Division II coaches.
Shepherd’s latest visit to the winner’s circle came on Saturday at Ram Stadium when it toppled conference rival West Virginia State, 46-17, on a raw afternoon that had blustery winds and over 4,000 people in the stands.
The Rams are now 6-0 and much-improved West Virginia State had a 4-3 record with the loss.
After the Yellow Jackets breathed hard on the Shepherd lead — moving within 23-17 — the Rams produced the cloud-filled afternoon’s last 23 points to win going away with a typical second-half surge.
Two pivotal returns by C.J. Davis helped carry the Rams on their unbeaten way. The first return was a 66-yard dash on a kickoff that led to the Rams taking an early 7-0 lead. The second Davis contribution was a 66-yard punt return that helped make Shepherd’s second touchdown another short one and gave the Rams a 16-7 lead.
Shepherd’s often stingy defense limited the Yellow Jackets to just 28 rushing yards, had a fumble takeaway, had seven tackles for lost yardage and had two sacks against quarterback Matt Kinnick, who unleashed 44 passes with 25 completions for a routine 229 yards.
The 351 yards of total offense Shepherd produced was enough to win again with Jeff Ziemba completing 15 of his 26 throws for two touchdowns and 215 yards. Ziemba was intercepted for the first time all season.
Long-time Shepherd coach Monte Cater moved his impressive record against West Virginia State to 29-0.
In mostly controlling West Virginia State’s offense, Shepherd had a swarm of faces who made significant contributions.
The leading tackler was James Gupton, but Myles Humphrey, Tre Sullivan, Keon Robinson and Davis were near Gupton’s total.
Isaiah Ross and Shaneil Jenkins had sacks, Marshall Mundin had a fumble recovery and Jenkins forced a fumble.
Even punter Ryan Venter averaged 41.3 yards on his three boots.
Ayinde Warren stole one of Ziemba’s passes and had eight tackles for the now-vibrant Yellow Jackets.
Shepherd is currently one of only two unbeaten teams in its Super Region One. Clarion of the PSAC is the other team without a loss in 2015.
This week’s opponent is defending Super Region One champion Concord. As dangerous and talent-filled as any team on Shepherd’s schedule, the Mountain Lions have been forced to absorb three close losses and are 4-3 overall and in the league as well.
The Mountain Lions caused Shepherd to miss the 2014 playoffs when they defeated the Rams in overtime, inflicting the season’s second loss and keeping them home.
The game has a 12-noon start in Athens . . . and Shepherd will need its usual low-turnover game and the same quality play from every part of its team to tame the ready-for-the-Rams Mountain Lions.