The Shepherd Rams move on in the NCAA Division II playoffs, and the victory over the California University of PA Vulcans to earn a spot among the final four teams remaining is a true testament to what this team is about: teamwork and the will to win.
The Rams finished the game with a 41-30 victory after finding themselves down 17-0 just under halfway through the first quarter, giving Shepherd fans a reason to be nervous early. The Rams, as they have done all season adjusted their weaknesses and managed to slow down the Vulcans offense and put seven points on the board going into the second quarter.
After a high scoring first quarter for the Vulcans, the second quarter belonged to Shepherd. The Rams defense sparked the scoring when Myles Humphreys stripped the ball from Vulcans quarterback Michael Keir, and returned it to the house to draw the score to within 3 at 14-17. Jeff Ziemba would connect in the end zone for a second time with Billy Brown on the Rams next possession, putting them on top 21-17 with under a minute remaining until the half. The Vulcans used just 15 seconds to score on the ensuing drive and would regain the lead at 24-21 going into halftime.
The Rams and Vulcans would each find the end zone once in the third quarter, also each missing their extra points, putting Cal up by 3 at 27-30 and leaving fans, players, and coaches on edge and nervous entering the final quarter of the Regional Championship.
The Rams will to win could not be contained in the fourth quarter as they would keep the Vulcans out of the end zone, and find the end zone themselves twice, a five-yard pass from Ziemba to CJ Davis, and a quarterback sneak by Connor Jessop with 1:14 remaining to seal Shepherd’s victory.
Ziemba finished the day 14-26 for 200 yards with three touchdowns, with Brown catching 10 balls for 172 yards and two touchdowns. But for the second week in a row the story of the Rams’ offense is Brandon Hlavach who rushed for 150+ again, finishing the day with 159 yards on 24 carries.
The Defense stepped up when they were needed, as they have all season, with Octavius Thomas being all over the field finishing with 15 tackles and a sack.
Shepherd will face one of three teams next week, Ferris State, Northwest Missouri State, and North Alabama. This year the section committee has changed up the final four, the final four teams remaining will be seeded again from 1-4 seed. Following the new rankings the 1 seed will face the 4 seed and the 2 seed will play the 3 seed. The game location and time will be decided on which school puts in the highest bid.