Shepherd football falls to Findlay in playoffs 29-17 as Sylla has big day

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Sophomore cornerback Chris Jones (2) had a huge 50-yard kickoff return that set up a 47-yard touchdown by junior wide receiver Wanya Allen. Unfortunately, the Rams' offense managed only 10 other points besides this scoring drive, as the Oilers' defense made several key plays to stop the Rams' offense. (Jason Fischetti/The Picket).

The Shepherd Rams football team (10-1, 10-0 MEC) saw its season end with a 29-17 home loss in Shepherdstown, W.Va., to the Findlay Oilers (10-2, 6-1 G-MAC) Saturday afternoon. 

Coming into the game, the Oilers were averaging 274.1 rushing yards per game, something the Rams were well aware of. 

No matter what the Rams tried, however, they were not able to stop Oilers’ senior running back Daouda Sylla, who at times put the team on his back by finishing with 33 carries for 207 yards and two touchdown runs. Sylla had holes to run through during the entire game, as the Rams’ defense looked lost and confused as to how to contain him.  

The Oilers’ offensive linemen helped pave the way for its running backs to run through by totaling 277 yards rushing, continually not allowing penetration by the Rams’ front seven. 

For the game, the Oilers finished with 571 yards of total offense compared to the Rams’ 304 total yards. The Rams could not sustain the typical long scoring drives that were so routine for the team this season.  

Early on in the game, Oilers’ junior quarterback Rhys Gervais (21/41, 294 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception) had several double-digit-yard completions, but he and the rest of the Oilers’ offense could not finish off long, productive drives deep in Rams’ territory with touchdowns, as they settled for three field goals in the first half. 

On the Rams’ second possession, on a first-and-goal play, senior quarterback Connor Jessop (18/37, 248 yards, 2 touchdowns, 2 interceptions) found senior wide receiver Ryan Feiss (8 receptions, 81 yards, 1 touchdown reception) at the goal line for a six-yard touchdown that gave the Rams a 7-3 lead with 3:21 to play in the first quarter.  

After the second field goal by Oilers junior kicker/wide receiver Jacob Alton, a 32-yarder, with 00:27 to play in the first quarter that trimmed the Rams’ lead to 7-6, the Rams were able to capitalize off of a 50-yard kickoff return by sophomore cornerback Chris Jones that set up the Rams at the Oilers’ 47-yard line. 

On just the second play of the drive, Jessop found junior wide receiver Wanya Allen (4 receptions, 68 yards, 1 touchdown reception) for a 47-yard touchdown with 00:03 left in the first quarter that caused the home crowd to go crazy, as the Rams appeared to be finding their rhythm with a 14-6 lead. 

The Oilers continued to be able to move the ball down the field with a nice running game and timely passing plays, but again had to settle for another field goal by Alton, this time a 36-yarder, with 4:01 left in the second quarter that cut the Rams’ lead to 14-9. 

Then, just as Rams’ senior free safety Tre Anderson (7 tackles) has done all season long, he stepped in front of a Gervais pass at the Rams’ 30-yard line and brought it back to the Rams’ 44-yard line with just 00:14 left in the first half. 

Junior wide receiver Wanya Allen (13) had an electrifying 47-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter that helped the Rams build a 14-6 lead. (Jason Fischetti/The Picket).

Seeking an added boost going into halftime, Jessop launched a pass deep down the right sideline that was caught by sophomore tight end DJ Cornish (5 receptions, 87 yards) for a 41-yard gain that brought the ball down to the Oilers’ 15-yard line.  

This would lead to a 32-yard field goal by senior kicker Zach Wise that gave the Rams a 17-9 halftime lead. 

However, to the Rams’ dismay, the Oilers would win the second half by a 20-0 score, thanks to the Oilers being able to finish off the long and productive drives that they were not able to in the first half. 

On the opening drive of the second half, Gervais came out throwing with authority on throws to the sideline, mainly to sophomore wide receiver Andrew Ogletree (6 receptions, 81 yards), who had three receptions of at least 11 yards on the 12-play, 73-yard touchdown drive.  

Syllla plowed through the Rams’ defense behind his offensive line for a one-yard touchdown run that brought the Oilers to within two at a 17-15 score with 10:31 to play in the third quarter. 

To try and tie the game, the Oilers went for a two-point conversion attempt. Gervais found Sylla at the goal line, but he was hit hard by two Rams’ defenders on the play before he could cross the goal line again. Sylla stayed down after getting hurt on the play, but got back up after a minute or two. 

The momentum had clearly swung to the Oilers, despite the failed two-point conversion attempt. The offense was finally able to break through and finish with a touchdown after being unable to do so in the first half. 

Jessop helped bring the Rams to just past midfield before they had to punt the ball away on the Rams’ opening drive of the second half, but then the Rams had to punt and put a tired Rams’  defense back on the field.  

Ogletree’s huge 12-yard reception on third-down on the Oilers’ next drive helped keep the Oilers’ drive alive. In the second half, Ogletree came to play, making several key receptions in the winning effort. 

The Oilers found the end zone again later on in the drive with a four-yard rushing touchdown by Michael Campbell (20 carries, 93 yards, 1 rushing touchdown) that caused Oilers’ fans to go berserk, as they now held the lead over the highly-favored Rams. 

With a successful two-point conversion attempt, the Oilers held a 23-17 lead with 1:36 to play in the third quarter.  

The Rams had no answer for the Oilers’ rushing attack, as many players watched helplessly from the sidelines. (Jason Fischetti/The Picket).

Needing an answer, Jessop helped guide the Rams down to the Oilers’ eight-yard line on the next drive, but his pass on first-and-goal was intercepted with 13:46 to play in the fourth quarter by junior defensive back Chiebuka Chukwuneke (5 tackles) at the one-yard line, halting the positive progress the Rams were having on the drive. 

Backed up on its own one-yard line, the Oilers knew they had to get some breathing room away from their own end zone. A pass interference penalty on Jones gave the Oilers just that, much to the dismay of the Rams’ fans. 

Later on in the drive, the head coach of the Oilers, Rob Keys, made a gutsy call by going for it on fourth-and-one on its own 31-yard line. As he had done all game long, Sylla delivered with a 13-yard burst that electrified the Oilers’ fans while deflating those of the Rams.  

Three plays later, on a third-and-six from his own 48-yard line, Gervais placed a beautiful touch on a pass down the seam of the Rams’ defense to senior wide receiver Airion Kosak for a 52-yard touchdown with 8:08 to play that essentially put the game out of reach, as the Oilers now led by a 29-17 score. The two-point conversion attempt was unsuccessful, but it was too little too late for the Rams. 

Jessop quickly got the Rams down to the Oilers’ 40-yard line thanks to a four-yard scramble on a fourth-and-three play during which he and an Oilers’ bench flipped over as he ran out of bounds.  

On the very next play, Jessop made an errant throw that was intercepted by senior defensive back Aaron Ivory (3 tackles) at the Oilers’ 18-yard line with 6:49 to play. 

The Oilers were able to continue to run the ball and convert on two third-down attempts to run out the clock and secure the 29-17 road victory.  

Saturday afternoon’s loss ended what had been a great season up to this point for the Rams, as they came in with an undefeated mark.  

Many seniors, fan favorites, and team leaders such as senior defensive end Myles Humphrey (6 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 pass breakup), inside linebacker James Gupton (team-leading 16 tackles, 1 pass breakup) Jessop, running back Jabre Lolley (8 carries, 14 yards), Anderson, and Feiss saw their respective careers come to an end with the loss to the Oilers.  

The head coach of the Rams, Monte Cater (far left), and the Rams walk off the field to shake hands with the Oilers after the game. (Jason Fischetti/The Picket).

After the game, Jessop gave his thoughts on the Oilers’ defensive play. 

“They [were] playing a lot of man [coverage] and they just did a good job of staying with our guys just long enough and brining some pressure up the middle. I missed a lot of throws today. And [I had] two interceptions, especially on their side of the field, I mean I take full responsibility for both of those…and…it just wasn’t our day.” 

Jessop also spoke about how proud he was of his offense’s play this season and how he will never forget his teammates. 

“It’s been a fun year. You hate for it to go out this way, especially at home, but you know, I’m gonna miss these guys, especially the seniors, they’re some real good guys, regardless of football.”  

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