This year, Shepherd seniors will get another home game (or two)
Parents, guardians and relatives of all ages gather on the artificial surface of Ram Stadium to take a slow walk to the middle of the field.
That’s the way it’s done when Shepherd gives its seniors a last hurrah on Senior Day when the final home game comes in November.
Those same relatives and the Shepherd seniors will follow tradition and do the same bittersweet walk this Saturday.
Urbana is in town for the 10th and final game of the 2015 regular season.
But when the firing is over about 3:05 p.m. and the forced darkness of Standard Time lurks just over the trees behind the well occupied press box, it won’t be the final home game for the unbeaten Rams.
You see, Shepherd is the No. 1 ranked team in Super Region One of the NCAA Division II ranks.
The playoffs are next for seven teams selected by the NCAA in each of four Super Regions to go after the national championship.
Shepherd is playing Urbana, an Ohio school with a 2-8 record that has just one win in the Mountain East Conference.
Even though the Rams have encountered a recent rash of injuries to some of its starters, they have still been able to keep showing the consistency to score over 40 points in eight of their nine games.
And beating the Rams on their home field is a rare feat for an opponent. So helpful are the usual 4,000-5,200 fans that crowd close to the playing surface on both sides of venerable Ram Stadium that they actually give the Rams even more of a home field advantage.
The fans are loud at the right times. And the “right times” come often when your favorite team gives you another victory.
Should Shepherd complete a 10-0 regular season, it would retain its No. 1 rating in the region. It would receive a bye while there are three first-round games played on Saturday, Nov. 21.
On Nov. 28, Shepherd would be at home for a 12-noon game against the winner of the No. 4 seed versus the No. 5 seed game that was played on Nov. 21.
Before any games are played this week, Slippery Rock (Pa.) is rated No. 4 and Assumption (Worcester, Massachusetts) is the No. 5 team. Slippery Rock is 9-1 and Assumption is also 9-1, but The Rock would be a heavy favorite if those teams met in the playoffs.
Slippery Rock has to play at West Chester this week in the PSAC championship game. Assumption of the Northeast-10 Conference is at home against New Haven in that league’s championship game.
The ratings could be changed by this weekend’s games.
Shepherd has senior defensive starters Phillip Rhoden (out with an injury), Elijah Norris, Shaneil Jenkins, Keon Robinson and Isaiah Ross nearing the end of their long or one-season careers. The four offensive starters who are seniors start on the line with Zach Buffkin and include Allen Cross, Dalton Boyd and Jon Hammer. Record-setting placekicker Ryan Earls is also a senior.
The relatives will be back to see these seniors — maybe once, or maybe twice, if the Rams can win on Nov. 28 and reach the Super Region One finale on Dec. 5.