Next playoff spot for Shepherd is California
And now it’s on to the national quarterfinals for Shepherd’s undefeated football Rams.
After dealing LIU Post its first loss of the season, a 40-21 offensive display that showed the Rams with 591 yards of total offense, 30 first downs and the weekly individual highlights of receiver Billy Brown, Shepherd moves into more dangerous territory when it travels to western Pennsylvania to face equally unbeaten and top-seeded California with the Super Region One championship on the line.
LIU Post was more than bloodied by Shepherd’s suddenly versatile offense that tallied four first-half scores and sealed its 12th consecutive victory of the 2016 season with two more touchdowns in the still-prosperous second half.
Dissecting the mammoth offensive showing had the Rams using Jeff Ziemba’s 375 passing yards and another 216 rushing yards, where Brandon Hlavach scored twice and had 178 yards along the ground.
Brown, who now has 20 touchdown receptions in the team’s 12 games, caught short scoring throws of six, five and two yards from Ziemba. Ziemba went 25-for-35 and didn’t have an interception while being sacked three times.
When Brown wasn’t playing pitch-and-catch with Ziemba, receiver C.J. Davis was. Davis hauled in nine passes for 127 yards and one score.
After getting points on its first possession, Shepherd absorbed the Pioneers’ penalty-aided touchdown (a 20-yard drive) and moved smartly to a 26-7 lead by halftime.
Hlavach ran 31 yards to cap Shepherd’s opening drive with points. Then in the second quarter Brown had a six-yard score, Davis romped into the Pioneer end zone with a 33-yard reception . . . and Brown extended the Shepherd lead to 26-7 with his five-yard grab that came with only 23 seconds left in the second period.
Shepherd’s usually lively defense had limited the Pioneers to only seven first-half points and had seen Octavius Thomas force and recover a fumble at the Rams’ two on LIU Post’s first possession and Tre Anderson make an interception on the New York-based team’s last possession before intermission.
After the Shepherd lead was melted slightly to 26-14, the Rams once more went out to a 19-point lead when Hlavach scored on a three-yard run. Post’s next points made it a 12-point game . . . but the still-potent Rams sent more shivers through the home side with Brown’s two-yard scoring catch with only 4:27 remaining. It was, 40-21, and the Rams hadn’t been slowed much at all on the sunny afternoon on Long Island.
Shepherd ceded the Pioneers 379 yards of total offense, but claimed the two turnovers and showed James Gupton with nine tackles, Adam Coles with seven stops, Thomas with six, Marshall Mundin with five and Myles Humphrey with five. Thomas, Mundin, Humphrey and Scott Dixon had the Shepherd sacks.
There are only eight teams still standing in the mine-filled hunt for the NCAA Division II national championship.
The Rams are in football-crazed western Pennsylvania on Saturday for a 1 p.m. game versus the Vulcans of California, a team that sailed through its schedule with only one close game, a three-point win over Indiana. Last weekend, California had its first playoff game and once trailed the same Indiana team by a 17-0 count before literally storming back to a 44-24 win on its home field.
The Region’s top-seeded Vulcans thrashed Kutztown in their conference championship game, had a week off and then crashed Indiana by scoring 44 of that game’s last 51 points.
Mistakes . . . and penalties . . . can be multiplied at this stage of the winding, playoff road because California will be the most talented (by a wide margin) team Shepherd has seen so far this season.