Playoff preview: Findlay Ohio Oilers vs Shepherd Rams

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Junior wide receiver Wanya Allen (13) has been a tremendous red zone target for the Rams this season, amassing 11 receiving touchdowns. (Jason Fischetti/The Picket).

This Saturday afternoon, Nov. 18, the Shepherd Rams football team (10-0, 10-0 MEC) will host the Findlay Ohio Oilers (9-2, 6-1 G-MAC) in the first round of the NCAA Division II Playoffs this Saturday, Nov. 18, at 12 p.m. 

In the Oilers first season in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference (G-MAC), they made their presence known by going 6-1 with a diverse offensive attack and behind a defense that has made life miserable for opposing offenses, primarily through the passing game. 

On the offensive side, the Oilers average 47.5 points per game this season. Seven times this season the Oilers have scored over 40 points, which is something the Rams can relate to themselves. The Oilers have seven wins by at least 38 points, as opposing teams have had great trouble finding a way to contain the Oilers’ devastating attack.  

The Oilers’ offense is headlined by senior running back Daouda Sylla. For the season, Sylla has 1,278 yards rushing to go along with 17 touchdown runs. At 5’9″ and 210 pounds, Sylla has displayed great elusiveness and power to help guide the Oilers’ offense, as he is averaging 6.8 yards per carry on the season. 

Sylla is joined in the backfield by fellow running backs Michael Campbell, a junior, and Nate Slagel, a sophomore. Campbell has posted 780 yards rushing and 14 rushing touchdowns this season, while Slagel has 525 yards rushing and five rushing touchdowns. 

Sylla, Campbell, and Slagel have helped formed a dynamic rushing attack for the Oilers this season, punishing opposing defenses by averaging 274.1 rushing yards per game and totaling 38 rushing touchdowns on the season. 

For as good as the rushing attack of the Oilers is, their passing game is very good as well. Junior quarterback Rhys Gervais has thrown for just 1,858 yards this season, but has a high completion percentage (67.7%) and has thrown for 19 touchdowns.  

Senior quarterback Connor Jessop (9) and the Rams’ offense may have to score a substantial amount of points to keep pace with the Oilers’ offense,, who is averaging 47.5 points per game this season. (Jason Fischetti/The Picket).

Fellow junior quarterback Adam Bertke has also seen time on the field this season, throwing for 701 yards and nine touchdowns himself, but he has a completion percentage of just 54.5 percent. However, Bertke has been able to rush for two touchdowns on the season, so he is someone that the Rams need to keep their eyes on if he enters the game. 

Gervais and Bertke have largely played the point guard role in the Oilers’ offense by handing the ball off to their talented running backs and making timely throws to their playmakers at wide receiver.  

Gervais has largely led the Oilers to an average of 47.5 points per game. Through the air, the Oilers average 236.2 yards per game, helping to keep opposing defenses honest.  

At the wide receiver position for the Oilers is junior Jason Moore, who has 55 receptions on the season for 843 yards and 13 touchdowns. Moore has really been carrying the wide receiver corps for the Oilers, as no other wide receiver on the team has more than 354 yards on the season. Teammate Andrew Ogletree, a sophomore wide receiver, however, has provided a spark with his five receiving touchdowns this season.  

Defensively, the Oilers are giving up just 17.1 points per game. The Oilers do struggle a bit against the run (140.5 yards per game), but are fairly stout against the pass, surrendering just 172.4 yards per game.  

Senior defensive backs Aaron Ivory and Tyler Lee have been outstanding ballhawks for the Oilers’ defense, with each of them recording four interceptions. 

The top pass rush threats for the Oilers have been senior defensive linemen Johnny Hopkins (5.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles) and junior linebacker Justice Jenkins (5 sacks, 1 forced fumble). They have been the backbone behind a pass rush that has been fairly average with 28 sacks on the season. 

These two will look to put pressure on Rams senior quarterback Connor Jessop, who has led the Rams’ offense to one of the most productive (if not the most productive) seasons in school history. 

All season long, the Rams’ offense has been extremely potent and efficient, causing a great deal of confusion and frustration for opposing defenses. This is evidenced by the team averaging 48.5 points per game. The Rams’ lowest-scoring output of the season was 28 points in a 28-23 win over Fairmont State back on Oct. 12.  

To put things in perspective, in every other game besides the Fairmont State game, the Rams have scored at least 42 points in every game, something that the Oilers’ defense will have something to say about.  

Jessop has thrown for 38 touchdown passes this season – the most in MEC and school history. He has completed 64.71 percent of his passes and thrown for 3,284 yards, while being largely responsible for the team averaging 332.3 passing yards per game. 

Having the ability to scramble for large gains has been another positive asset of Jessop’s game, as he is currently the Rams’ third-leading rusher with 401 yards and six touchdowns on the season. 

As Jessop knows, however, the Rams’ backfield is manned by senior running back Jabre Lolley, who has recently developed into a very diverse threat out of the backfield. Lolley has punished opposing defenses with his physical style of play, compiling 1,127 yards and 15 rushing touchdowns to go along with a 6.6 yards per carry average. 

Senior running back Jabre Lolley (21) has helped balance the Rams’ offense by averaging 110.1 yards rushing per game this season. (Jason Fischetti/The Picket).

In terms of the passing game, Lolley has just 172 receiving yards on the season, but has recently found a great spark in catching passes out of the backfield by recording three receiving touchdowns. 

Sophomore running back Patrick Griffin has been a nice change-of-pace running back for the Rams, as he is more of a speed and finesse running back. Griffin has played a valuable role with his 474 yards and five rushing touchdowns. 

Lolley, Griffin, and Jessop have combined to help contribute to the Rams’ averages of 195.1 rushing yards per game and 5.6 yards per carry.  

Through the air, the Rams have been even more effective, as numerous players have stepped up in large and important ways. 

Senior wide receiver Ryan Feiss’ 87 receptions for 1,310 yards and eight touchdown receptions have helped guide the Rams’ offense down the field all season long. Junior wide receiver Wanya Allen has been a particular threat for opposing defenses in the red zone because of his tremendous size (6’3″, 230 pounds) and playmaking ability, totaling 11 receiving touchdowns to lead all Rams in this category.  

Sophomore tight end DJ Cornish has proved to be an excellent target for Jessop both in the short and intermediate passing game, helping to stretch defenses. Cornish had a late start to the season due to injury, but has amassed 31 receptions for 474 yards and six receiving touchdowns.  

With all of the skills and natural ability that these three receiving options and other Rams’ receivers have, they help take attention away from each other. It is nearly impossible to effectively double team a Rams’ receiver, because it leaves one of them one-on-one with opposing defenders, which has been an unfavorable matchup most of the time for opponents this season.  

Senior wide receiver Ryan Feiss (3) has shown great instincts and talent at the wide receiver position for the Rams this season. In the open field, Feiss is hard to bring down with his speed and unwillingness to go down easily. (Jason Fischetti/The Picket).

The Rams’ defense has also made large contributions in helping the team to an undefeated record. Although the defense gives up an average of 25.6 points per game, this statistic is really just reflective of the Rams’ first three games and the season finale last week. 

Defensively, the Rams had a six-game stretch where they did not allow more than 23 points, as all of the pieces started coming together.  

All season long, the Rams have been stout against the run, allowing just 86.2 rushing yards per game. In the passing game, the Rams have been vulnerable at times by surrendering 235 yards per game. 

However, one has to keep in mind that at the start of the season the Rams had a number of injuries in the secondary, as the head coach of the Rams, Monte Cater, explained earlier this season. This was certainly a factor in the overall opposing points per game average as well. 

Senior defensive ends Myles Humphrey and Elijah Norris have put the heat on opposing quarterbacks this season for the Rams, amassing 11.5 and 6.5 sacks a piece, respectively. Humphrey has four forced fumbles on the season, while Norris has one, showing what they can do to opposing ball carriers. 

Fellow senior defensive end Bruno Anyangwe has put plenty of pressure on opposing quarterbacks this season as well, as he has registered four sacks on the season. Anyangwe also has one forced fumble and one fumble recovery this season, showing he is not limited in his skill set. 

James Gupton, a senior inside linebacker, has been around opposing ball carriers frequently this season, totaling a team-leading 71 tackles and 13.5 tackles for loss, which is second on the team behind Humphrey’s 18 tackles for loss. Gupton has a knack for being around the ball and making the right plays at the right time. 

Senior free safety Tre Anderson also has a tendency to make great impact plays on defense, as evidenced by his three interceptions on the season. Anderson has the speed and tenacity to come up and make tackles from the safety position as well, with his 31 total tackles being tied for fourth on the team with senior inside linebacker Cameron Reynolds.  

On the season, Reynolds himself has three tackles for loss. Reynolds brings a high level of toughness and physicality to the Rams’ defense. He has been one of many Rams’ defenders that has displayed great leadership abilities as a senior. 

With two teams that do so many things well, it will sure be interesting to see how it all plays out Saturday afternoon in Shepherdstown.  

Information from the athletics websites of Shepherd University and the University of Findlay were used in this article. 

Anthony Bracken is the Sports Editor of The Picket. He can be reached at abrack02@rams.shepherd.edu