Shepherd Rams advance to D2 semi-finals with 28-16 win over Slippery Rock
Shepherdtown, WV – The Shepherd University Rams (12-0) used a balanced offensive attack and outgained Slippery Rock 352 yards to 320 total yards, and applied a high-pressure defensive rush to defeat The Pride in the quarterfinals of the D2 playoffs, 28-16. The Rams now move on to the National semi-finals. QB Jeff Ziemba of the Rams threw two TD passes and RB Allen Cross scored two touchdowns on the ground while DT Elijah Norris recorded three of the Rams’ seven sacks to key the victory to now host Grand Valley State of Michigan next weekend. It was a balmy, unseasonably nice December Saturday for Collegefootballfan.com to enjoy this playoff game with SRU alum Bob Jones and Dan’s Tailgate Blog “reporter” Brian Donnelly.
The visiting Rock, who demonstrated a good following filled the visitors stands at Ram Stadium, started the scoring with a two-yard run through the middle by RB Shamar Greene on a fourth and two in the first to a take a 7-0 lead. Their next possession terminated in a 41-yard blocked FG attempt. The Rams could not capitalize on that though either as their following series resulted in a missed 43-yard FG. The defenses dominated early against offenses averaging 45.2 points per game (SRU) and 40.3 ppg (Shepherd).
In the second period, The Rock started to drive but a long pass attempt was intercepted by the Rams’ DB Keon Johnson who went to the ground on his own one-yard line. “A good punt!” noted some Slippery Rock fans we sat amongst. Not so fast! The Rams drove the length of the field. At The Rock 16, Ziemba (15 for 26 passing, 255 yards, two TDs, one INT) threw a pass to the left pylon where WR Tony Squirewell made a diving grab for the tying touchdown. The defenses continued to keep the offenses in check for the rest of the half, and the teams retired to the intermission with the score knotted at 7-7, much lower than the high-scoring, offensively dominated battle we were anticipating.
For Bob, it was his first SRU game in quite a while. Before kickoff in the bleachers among the Slippery Rock faithful, he met a fellow alum from his graduating class of ’83. When Bob introduced himself, he made mention that when he was a student there that he was the SRU mascot, “Rocky the Rock.” Undoubtedly impressed, his classmate insisted on having a few photos taken. Bob is currently having discussions with the Slippery Rock administration to bring back “Rocky” in some form. Currently the Rock teams are referred to as “The Pride”, and it uses a Lion as its mascot, but Bob and his fellow alum point out that there is already a Lion mascot in the state of Pennsylvania and that to bring back Rocky as their mascot would be appropriate and unique. Bob still has the original mascot outfit and he is planning on a way to re-present it back to the school. He came up with the mascot idea while he was a student, and with the help of his Mother, they designed and created it after his idea was initiated in a conversation with his late father. Bob told me the story of an incident when he walked to a Slippery Rock game on campus in the outfit when he suddenly heard some yelling from the SRU student section before its game against it prime rival, Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He didn’t know it until he turned around to see that he was being snuck up upon by some IUP students when suddenly, Slippery Rock All-American DE Jack Muller had broken rank from among his teammates and chased Rocky’s would be attackers away. Muller told his cherished mascot to follow him, and he led him to the bench along the sideline where “Rocky” took his rightful place by his team along the sideline before the game.
The Rock defense tipped a Ziemba pass on the first drive of the third period and LB Bob Vernick picked it off to give the offense possession at Shepherd’s 45, but the Rams forced a punt at the 46 and took over from its 26. Ziemba connected with his WR Billy Brown on a crossing pattern over the middle for a short pass before the big TE broke a tackle and streaked 74 yards for the Rams’ second score. The PAT was missed and the 13-7 lead remained intact. It got worse for The Rock, however. Its next drive started from the 11, and there the ball was recovered by Robinson for his second turnover of the game. Cross (13 carries for 82 yards, two TDs) went right up the middle for a quick score. Another missed PAT put Shepherd up, 19-7. Later in the period, Cross finished off another Ram scoring drive with a 27-yard TD run. This time, the two-point conversion was stopped by The Rock defense. There still seemed to be some hope though for the visitors with 5:15 left in the third. It felt like their high-powered offense despite missing RB Julian Durden who was sidelined with a leg injury would start cranking and take advantage of the missed Ram extra point conversions trailing, 25-7. Things began to swing that way when QB Dante Sania (27 for 53, 253 yards, one TD, one INT) completed consecutive passes down the left sideline to LeRoy McClain for 39 yards and then to Marcus Johnson for 32 before connecting on a nine-yard bench pattern to the right pylon with WR Jaimre Dutrieulle (10 catches, 61 yards, one TD) on a diving snare to cut the score to 25-14. A punt by SRU put the Rams back on their one. Instead of a second 99-yard scoring drive, this possession ended differently. Ziemba took a step back and turned to make a quick handoff, but no RB was within reach. He was tackled for a safety. The Rock closed the gap to 25-16 and was getting the ball back. Dutrieulle returned the kick to the Shepherd 44 before the game entered its final period.
Once again, the Ram D stopped a drive and forced a punt. Neither team moved the ball effectively on their ensuing possessions. SRU punted again from its 47. Robinson fielded the punt, broke several tackles, to get into the clear to go one on one against Rock punter Andrew Huska. Huska took a few steps back but then somehow managed to wrap his arms around Robinson’s shoulders to bring him down at the 15. It could have been a game-saver for Slippery Rock had they been able to get back into the end zone again. Three plays later, Shepherd settled for a 27-yard FG. With 8:47 left on the game clock, Shepherd led, 28-16. The Rock still seemed to be within striking distance. They started next deep from their 15, but an eight-yard sack by Shanell Jenkins forced a punt once again. The Rock could not generate any necessary offense to mount a comeback as the Shepherd defense remained unyielding to preserve the score and advance the home team to the Division 2 semi-finals. Congratulations are also in order to Shepherd HC Monte Cater in his 29th season leading the Rams’ football program. His 250th win this day includes victories won at both Shepherd and at Lakeland College of Wisconsin.
Shepherd hosts Grand Valley State of Michigan next Saturday. GVSU soundly defeated defending D2 champ Colorado State-Puebla, 31-7. The other bracket has NW Missouri hosting West Georgia. Collegefootballfan.com will attend the final regular season game of the college football season when No. 21 Navy plays Army in Philadelphia. The Mids will be going for their 14th straight win over Army and for CFF.com, it will be our 11th time in attendance at this great rivalry. We are not sure what we will do the following weekend, if anything, depending on FCS matchups or the possibility of attending the D-3 national championship game in Salem, Virginia. We do know this about that one, however. It won’t be Mount Union against Wisconsin-Whitewater this year because the two will be playing one another in the semi-final game this weekend. The other semi will be between Linfield of Oregon and St. Thomas of Minnesota. We also know who we will now be seeing in the Military Bowl (Navy vs. Pitt) and the Russell Athletic (UNC vs. Baylor). We are still deciding between the Citrus (Michigan vs. Florida) and the Outback (Northwestern vs. Tennessee). We do know that we will be seeing No. 1 seed Clemson playing No. 4 Oklahoma in the CFP semi-final at the Orange Bowl! We love college football.