The Rams (2-0, 2-0 MEC) came through when they needed to most to avoid an early season road loss to the Pioneers (0-3, 0-3 MEC) of Glenville State, coming from behind to win 42-34 Saturday afternoon.
Senior running back Jabre Lolley set the tone for the Rams on the ground in this one, finishing with 149 yards on 22 carries. He scored the first of his two touchdown runs on a one yard run with 9:20 to play in the first quarter.
In the season opener against Notre Dame (Ohio) the Rams relied on an air raid attack, as the ground game never really got going, totaling just 85 yards for the game.
On Saturday, the Rams saw the need to get this dimension of their offense going, as the offense totaled 184 rushing yards in the game.
Defensively, the Rams had trouble containing the Pioneers potent attack early on. Senior wide receiver Daman Robinson got behind the Rams’ defense and was hit in stride by freshman quarterback Jaylen McNair (20-31, 298 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT) for an 81 yard touchdown pass that gave the Pioneers a 14-7 lead with 3:36 to go in the first quarter.
The Rams would respond thanks to the stellar play of senior quarterback Connor Jessop (28-42, 357 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT) and senior wide receiver Ryan Feiss, who had another impressive performance.
Feiss (16 Rec, 181 yards) caught two touchdown catches in the game, with the second one tying the game at 21-21 with 4:15 to play in the first half.
With the game tied at 21 at halftime, the Pioneers had the Rams on the verge of an upset. An upset looked very promising to Pioneers’ fans early on in the second half, as the Pioneers scored 13 points to take a 34-21 lead in the third quarter.
McNair tossed a 12 yard touchdown pass to freshman wide receiver Javon Butler and another 10 yard pass to sophomore running back Thomas Boles, as the Rams’ defense appeared unable to cover the Pioneers during large stretches of the game.
After Boles’ touchdown reception, kicker Kelvin Flores missed the extra point attempt, which could have made the Pioneers’ lead even larger.
Needing an answer, the Rams responded with a 15 yard run by sophomore running back Patrick Griffin with 1:56 to play in the third quarter to cap a six play, 76 yard touchdown drive that reduced the Pioneers’ lead to 34-28.
With the momentum on their side, the Rams got the ball back after a three-and-out by the Pioneers’ offense.
Jessop, on the next drive, completed two passes to junior wide receiver Wanya Allen and redshirt-freshman tight end Alex Wetzel that got the Rams down to the Pioneers’ 17 yard line. This was when Lolley really put his stamp on the game, finishing off the six play, 66 yard drive by weaving his way through the Pioneers’ defense on his way to a 17 yard touchdown run that tied the game at 34-34.
Senior kicker Zach Wise of the Rams converted the extra point attempt to give the Rams a 35-34 lead on the road with 13:13 to play, making Flores’ earlier miss look all that much more costly.
Then, on the following Pioneers’ possession, in a time where the defense really needed to make a stand, senior free safety Tre Anderson intercepted a pass from McNair and ran 27 yards to set up the Rams at Pioneers’ 27 yard line. However, a personal foul penalty brought the ball back to the Pioneers’ 42 yard line.
This did not matter for Jessop, who found freshman receiver Duron Norris on the very next play for a 42 yard touchdown that stretched the Rams’ lead to 42-34 with 12:27 to play.
From then on, the Pioneers got the ball back four more times, but each time the Rams’ defense stepped up to the challenge and closed out the game.
Down to their last play, a 4th and 17 at their own 16 yard line, McNair could not find a connection with receiver freshman wide receiver Jordan Morgan, as freshman Shane Wilkins of the Rams broke up the pass.
The Rams were then able to kneel out the clock and preserve the 42-34 road win.
On the day, the Rams totaled 28 first downs to the Pioneers’ 18. Winning the rushing battle proved to be important to the game’s outcome, as the Rams had 184 net rushing yards compared to the Pioneers’ 58 yards on the ground.
Norris (6 Rec, 116 yards, 1 TD) took pressure off of Feiss in the passing game.
Senior defensive end Elijah Norris (7 Tackles, 3.5 TFL, 2.5 Sacks) and Juwan Addison (2 Tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1.5 Sacks) put the heat on McNair during the course of the game for the Rams’ defense, which made critical plays to finish off the Rams’ comeback attempt.
After a shaky start, the Rams’ defense settled down and allowed 356 total yards, while the Pioneers’ defense did not fair as well, surrendering 541 yards of total offense to the Rams.
Following the game, the head coach of the Rams, Monte Cater, said through email that he has been very impressed with how the offense has played so far this season.
“The offense has been very consistent at this point in the season. We have been able to score points, spread the offense around (run/pass) and not turn the ball over. Controlling the clock helps keep our defense rested, and getting some balance with run/pass keeps us from being one-dimensional.”
In terms of where the defense can make improvements, Cater believes that injuries have been partly due to some of the defensive struggles.
“We have suffered from some big plays by our opponents with the pass. We have injuries in the secondary which has forced us to use younger and less experienced players. Our run defense was much improved against Glenville and we hope to get some DB’s healthy for WV State.”
When asked about what challenges the Rams’ next opponent, West Virginia State, presents, Cater commented that the Yellow Jackets have a strong offense that will be difficult to stop.
“WV State has played everyone extremely tough in the early part of the season. They are scoring points and had a huge win against U/C in the opener. They run the ball very well and will challenge us with a much stronger offense than in past years.”
On Saturday, Sept. 23, the Rams will host West Virginia State at 12 p.m., looking to improve their record to 3-0 on the young season.
Anthony Bracken is the Sports Editor of The Picket. He can be reached at email@example.com