Defense closes down Fairmont, Rams stay unbeaten
There were nearly 7,000 people crowded into Ram Stadium. There was an on-field marriage proposal by Shepherd’s Adam Coles that was accepted just before the game with Fairmont began. The football-perfect afternoon was a sun-splashed creation of nature. Shepherd paraded its long list of seniors and their clutches of relatives before the many thousands sitting, standing and craning their necks on the home side.
But this game between two undefeated teams was not one of pomp and circumstance. It was tense. It was fierce at times. It was fraught with mistakes and penalties.
And it was won by Shepherd’s defense, which gradually secured control in small increments from midway through the second quarter until the very end when it recorded five sacks on Fairmont thrower Cooper Hibbs in the last quarter alone.
Shepherd claimed a 27-17 victory over the visitors, who lived up to their nickname “Fighting Falcons.”
The Rams now have beaten Fairmont in 15 of the last 16 meetings between the rivals and have won the last eight games in the long series.
It was easy to see why both teams were unbeaten.
Neither side gave much to the other’s offense.
Shepherd had seven sacks against Hibbs. And Fairmont had six sacks against Shepherd’s Jeff Ziemba. Fairmont managed just 65 rushing yards and converted only 2-of-16 third down situations. Shepherd got 90 ground yards from Deonte Glover, but ceded a whopping 51 yards when Ziemba was sacked a half-dozen times, and could convert only 2-of-14 third down attempts.
And always there were the penalties, often bringing minutes-long conferences from the seven officials. The Rams were tagged 13 times for 123 yards and the Fighting Falcons found guilty 12 times for 94 yards.
Both offenses did have their moments of meaningful glory.
Just minutes into the game, the Rams had a 7-0 lead on a 21-yard scoring catch by Wanya Allen on a throw from Ziemba that was made possible by much scrutiny of the scouting report. Allen was virtually uncovered as Fairmont concentrated heavily on receivers Billy Brown and C.J. Davis.
It was only a 10-10 game at the half. Hibbs was given generous time to throw and Shepherd’s Zach Wise was true on a 39-yard field goal.
The next points came when the Rams’ Jared Austin ran in a 17-yard interception return for a 17-10 Shepherd lead.
In short order, Billy Brown’s three-yard TD reception made it 24-10 but was matched by Laurence King’s 74-yard catch/run that revived Fairmont’s chances . . . and made it 24-17, still in the third period.
And then it was the collective Shepherd defense that converged on Hibbs time after time as he attempted to pass.
Five times Hibbs was sacked in the fourth quarter. Myles Humphrey had three of the sacks while also causing a fumble and recovering the loose ball he just forced.
Fairmont’s defense was nearly as fierce against a retreating Ziemba.
An important play came with Shepherd needing about 30 yards for a first down after consecutive sacks against Ziemba.
When Brandon Hlavach was lifted and dumped hard, Fairmont was tagged for 15 yards for its treatment of the Shepherd back. The Falcons strenuously objected and were flagged an additional 15 yards . . . and suddenly Shepherd had a first down deep in Fairmont territory.
Wise would make a 30-yard field goal (after missing his last two tries), and the Ram led, 27-17, with only 4:13 remaining.
The shiny Shepherd defense had linebackers James Gupton and Octavius Thomas both with six tackles and an interception. Tre Anderson had six stops and Tre Sullivan had four tackles. Bruno Anyangwe had two of the fourth-quarter sacks. Punter Ruan Venter pinned Fairmont to its five- and six-yard line with two well-aimed boots.
Marcus Porter had 11 stops for the stingy Fairmont defense, and Trevon Shorts had seven tackles.
Freshman Laurence King was the most able of the Fairmont offensive players with his eight receptions for 149 yards.
The Rams are off to central Ohio this weekend, attempting to record a second straight unbeaten season against Urbana in a 1 p.m. game. They’ll have a few wounded offensive linemen because William Smith was injured early and did not return and Jacob Kingston and Levonte Hights had to be attended to on the same play. Both Kingston and Hights walked off but neither appeared to be any too sprightly.
If the defense is motivated and has an undefeated vision as to how the regular season will be completed, the Rams might not be as proficient as they were against the Fighting Falcons but they will be trouble for the homestanding Blue Knights.