The seventh-ranked Shepherd Rams entered Saturday knowing that if they won their final two games of the season, they would become the first ever Mountain East Conference (MEC) champions and punch their ticket to the NCAA Division II football playoffs. Their mission is now half completed as the Rams took it to West Virginia State, winning by a score of 47–0.
This game was an absolute rout as the Rams’ defense was on point by limiting West Virginia State to only 77 yards of total offense including an anemic 17 rushing yards. Coach Monte Cater spoke on the dominating performance for the defense after the game, saying, “Our defense played super this afternoon. We forced turnovers and were, for the most part, on target with everything we ran.”
The defensive side of the ball garnered the most attention on the afternoon as they were not only dominant, but a certain player also happened to make history on the afternoon. Senior defensive end Howard Jones had two sacks on the day and is now just one sack away from becoming the all-time sacks leader for Shepherd University. Senior defensive end Robert Hayes spoke about what it meant to have a teammate so close to making history: “This is a team effort, so to see a teammate playing so well for his entire career is something special.”
Penalties were the common theme on the afternoon as the Rams broke a record that no team wants to have. The Rams set a new single game mark for most penalty yards with 224. Cater was not happy about the penalties after the game, saying, “We didn’t play with great poise because we had so many penalties on the day. We’ve just got to focus harder and play as sharp as we practice during the week.” Cater was not the only member of the Rams that was disappointed in the amount of penalties they racked up in the game. “We’ve got to battle our emotions because we are such an emotional team. It’s about mental toughness and we need that especially now when our season comes down to each and every game,” Robert Hayes said.
The Shepherd offense was pretty good at times but was inconsistent for the most part of the afternoon as they battled through injuries and miscommunication. The running game was spot on as the Rams had 177 yards on the ground. Sophomore Allen Cross led the team with 65 yards and one touchdown on 18 carries, but redshirt freshman Jabre Lolley played just as well, notching 63 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries.
The passing game was spotty on the day as redshirt freshman Jeff Ziemba was called upon again as the starting quarterback. The Delaware native played fair as he went 17–30 for 183 passing yards and one touchdown pass in the third quarter. Jeff looked a little off in the first half as he was missing several wide open receivers but did rebound with a strong performance in the second half. Jeff spoke about his performance after the game: “Personally, I was rushing throws in the first half, but at halftime, the coaches talked to me and got me to relax, which led to our offense being more efficient in the second half.”
As an offensive unit, the Rams had 409 yards with five touchdowns and most importantly no turnovers. Cater spoke about the offensive performance, saying, “The offense played pretty well as they had moments where they made the big plays and we’re in sync. The passing game did especially well as we had five wide receivers out with injuries. We are very thin at the receiver position at this point in the season.”
With the victory, Shepherd improves to 9–0, 8–0 in MEC action, while West Virginia State falls to 0–10, 0–8. The Rams return to action on Saturday when they travel to Concord for a 1 p.m. conference matchup. Hayes spoke about the matchup against Concord next Saturday, saying, “If we can stop the run against Concord, then we will shut that offense down because they can’t pass on our defense.” If the Rams do indeed win against Concord, then they will finish the season as one of the few remaining undefeated teams in Division II football, Mountain East Conference champions, and almost a lock to host a Division II playoff game.