Shepherd has won the last six times it has tested Shippensburg in the Great Valley Classic, the football game that begins the seasons for both sides. But Shippensburg won its last four games to close out the first season as head coach for the Raiders’ Mark “Mac” Maciejewski.
Shepherd went 9-2, losing conference games on the road at Concord and West Virginia Wesleyan. Shippensburg went 7-4 to give Coach “Mac” a winning season as he replaced the retiring Rocky Rees.
The Red Raiders did more passing under Maciejewski. They did more scoring and they seemed to enjoy an offense that used the quarterback talents of Zach Zulli, a first-year starter, to throw them past Cheyney, Millersville, East Stroudsburg, and Mercyhurst on successive weekends at the season’s end.
Zulli began throwing touchdowns when Shippensburg fell hard at Ram Stadium, losing 53-27 as Shepherd literally amassed 601 yards of total offense.
Zulli’s four touchdown passes were more than matched by Shepherd’s first-time starter, Bobby Cooper. Cooper had three touchdown passes with 6:30 remaining in the third quarter. He finished with a 16-for-28 showing (with one interception) and 306 yards. Reserve freshman Trae Tinsman threw for another 74 yards with four completions in four tries.
The Rams kept the Red Raider defense chasing them all day when they rushed for another 221 yards.
When Shippensburg could not do much running against the Rams, it wasn’t going to keep pace with the Shepherd points machine.
Shepherd choked the Red Raider runners, limiting them to just 84 ground yards and three yards per rushing attempt.
With only a one-point lead at the half, Shepherd scored four straight touchdowns in the third quarter to run out to a 40-13 lead.
Zulli was sacked twice, once by returning two-year starter, Howard Jones.
When the afternoon had closed, Shepherd had the first win of a four-win beginning to its season. Shippensburg had trouble with the better teams in its Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference, but once past West Chester and Bloomsburg it stung the last four teams on the schedule.
Shepherd has quarterbacks Cooper and Tinsman for 2012. It also has halfback Kenny Williams (842 rushing yards) and useful receivers Justin Ford, Larry Lowe, and Robert Byrd. Tight end John Frick is back . . . but Coach Monte Cater will have to do without offensive linemen Josh Spring, Carl McIntyre, and Steve Jackson — all multi-year starters.
Zulli has runners Mike Frenette and Kevin Herod with him again. Shippensburg’s most heralded player is linebacker Cody Fleming, mentioned by at least one publication as a possible NCAA Division II All-America. Fleming was credited with only three tackles against Shepherd in last year’s loss.
It’s the Shepherd defense that could make Shippensburg a pass-first, pass-second, and pass-third team when the teams meet at 1 p.m. on September 1 at Seth Grove Stadium.
Jones has Mike Franklin and Robert Hayes beside him on Shepherd’s defensive front.
Linebackers A.J. Parrish, Nic Tolson, and Leons Kabongo will be joined by other playmakers in Dom Dixon, D. J. Scott, Corey Washington, and Keon Robinson. Robinson was an All-America selection as a freshman in 2010.
Shepherd needs to find a reliable placekicker after last year’s specialist — Eric Dobratz — finished his career. And the Rams haven’t had a punter of much value since Ricky Schmidt was such a forceful player.
If Robinson is given some punt return and kick return responsibilities, Shepherd could be a much-improved and much more dangerous team.
The offensive line has more experienced starters than Shippensburg usually boasts. But those players couldn’t help get much rushing yardage against the Rams last season.
And placekicking was not to be trusted in the Shippensburg camp a year ago.
Many of the games have been close or decided in the fourth quarter, but Shepherd shows six straight wins over the Red Raiders. And Shippensburg has four consecutive wins to bring forward to the 2012 season.
Coach “Mac” is more offensive minded than Coach Rees. And Shepherd averaged more than 40 points a game in 2012. Probably be some fireworks in the 2012 version of the Great Valley Classic.