Ninth Shepherd win produced by nine different factors
Shepherd made its debut on “Thursday Night Lights” one filled with rave reviews. Playing on the road for the final time this season — unless they reach all the way into the Division II national semifinals — the Rams rolled past Fairmont, 41-14, and tamed a team that had won five of its last six games.
Significant contributions came from all over the Shepherd roster . . . and from each of its three units — defense, special teams and offense.
There were three injured regulars missing (James Gupton, Will Smith and Phillip Rhoden) and still the unbeaten Rams were so smooth in the opening half that they had taken a 34-7 lead into intermission at Duval-Rosier Field.
Without much effort, finding nine reasons for the win were there for validating the season’s ninth win against no losses.
The nationally-rated defense held Fairmont to 48 rushing yards and one score until the Falcons got their last points with only 50 seconds to play.
There were 401 yards of total offense nearly equally divided between the ground and air attacks.
The Rams had seven sacks, 10 tackles for losses and stole three turnovers from the Falcons.
Special team activists Angelo Jean-Louis helped mightily with a blocked punt (that was returned for a score by Tre Sullivan) and Ruan Venter, who averaged 45.8 yards on his five punts that improved Shepherd’s scoring total and field position.
Wide receiver Billy Brown had catches on four of Shepherd’s first eight plays, and had another 100-plus yard game as well as a touchdown.
Quarterback Jeff Ziemba brushed close to 300 yards with his passes and knew where Brown was in any first-half situation that might have been troubling.
Jabre Lolley and Allen Cross, the Rams featured running backs, had three scores in the first half where Cross went 72 yards with Shepherd’s longest run from scrimmage this season.
Adam Coles (starting because of Rhoden’s injury) returned an interception 83 yards to set up Shepherd’s second score from the Falcon two. Jaylen Johnson, Keon Robinson and Octavius Thomas each had five tackles while Connor Simpson (replacing Gupton at linebacker) and Isaiah Ross each had four stops.
After winning the coin toss, the Rams took their first possession 77 yards in 13 plays that melted 5:50 off the clock. The third, fourth, fifth and sixth possessions all ended with Shepherd touchdowns.
The Rams are 9-0. Saturday’s 12-noon home game against Urbana showcases Senior Day, and another win would give Shepherd the No. 1 seed in its Division II Super Region One. Only the top-seeded team receives a first-round bye in the seven-team Regional playoffs, meaning the Rams would be idle on Nov. 21 and join the national doings on November 28 with a game at 12-noon at Ram Stadium against the survivor of the No. 4 seed versus the No. 5 seed first-round game.
Shepherd has scored between 41 and 48 points in eight of its nine games, using all manner of methods to produce points against its Mountain East opponents.
Against Fairmont, even the weather in north central West Virginia cooperated for an early November night game because a 66 degree temperature accompanied an evening with dry conditions . . . before Shepherd quickly warmed the scoreboard with its 27-point halftime lead.