Shepherd got the play-making defense it needed on Saturday when it stifled previously unbeaten Charleston, 16-10. Nine of the Rams’ points were scored by the effective defense, which allowed the Golden Eagles only 191 yards of total offense.
With its second conference win in two tries, Shepherd has now passed one of the league teams that has an obvious chance of winning the WVIAC championship itself.
In grinding out its win at Laidley Field in Charleston, the Rams could take the ream of post-game statistics and point to all manner of defensive numbers as the reasons they have now won three straight times and hold an early lead in the WVIAC standings.
Charleston managed only 12 first downs. The Golden Eagles had 46 yards rushing and a 1.8 yards per carry average. Completing a paltry 13-of-39 passes for only 144 yards against the pressing Rams’ defense kept Shepherd in charge. The Rams also intercepted two passes.
In its best showing of the four-game season, there were 220 rushing yards on 48 carries by Shepherd runners. Mike Haynes ran 24 times for 104 yards and Jihad Rasheed had 75 yards on 14 tries. Only 88 passing yards were managed by the Rams. And two of quarterback Bobby Cooper’s passes were intercepted.
Charleston had held a 10-0 lead when the game had less than a minute to play before halftime. Keon Robinson intercepted a John Knox pass and returned it 48 yards for the game’s single most important play.
Robinson’s score with 31 seconds remaining in the half allowed the Rams to leave the field trailing by just three points instead of 10.
After the defense shut out Charleston in the second half, Shepherd had gotten two points on a safety early in the fourth period and earlier had used Rasheed’s six-yard run to go in front, 14-10.
Dominique Dixon, A. J. Parrish, Levi Barber, Tim Durrant, Dontrewell Kelley, Jon Pearson, David Carter, and Phillip Rhoden were all credited with at least four tackles for the Rams.
Defending conference champion Concord comes to Ram Stadium on Saturday for a 12-noon game.
Concord’s first three games were at home, all against formidible competition. The Mountain Lions defeated Lenoir-Rhyne, 24-21, then lost to nationally-ranked Winston-Salem State, 30-22, before opening WVIAC play with a 17-14 loss to Charleston.
Last weekend, the Mountain Lions evened their record at 2-2 with a too-close, 23-16, win over West Virginia State on the road in Institute.
Concord has been playing without all-conference quarterback Zach Grossi and it has been struggling with newcomer Albert Rose. Rose was 11-for-17 for 129 yards against West Virginia State.
Calvinaugh Jones had 71 of the 162 rushing yards Concord managed.
West Virginia State had only 52 rushing yards on 30 attempts. But the Yellow Jackets threw for 262 yards with 23 completions on 37 passing attempts.
Under the guidance of first-year Coach Garin Justice, Concord won the 2011 league title. In Athens, the Mountain Lions defeated Shepherd last season. Shepherd had taken a 4-0 record against Concord, but lost on the road and then lost the next week to West Virginia Wesleyan to drown its chances of repeating a 2010 conference championship.
Concord represented the WVIAC in the 2011 NCAA playoffs. It didn’t go far.
After it lost to Shippensburg in the season opener, Shepherd must win the WVIAC title if it wants a return to the NCAA playoffs.
With the exception of the loss to unbeaten Shippensburg, the Rams have shown its other three opponents a consistently effective defense.
All six of Shepherd’s remaining games are against league opponents. Despite a problemed rushing offense, the Rams have shown a disruptive defense that can win games by allowing so few points . . . and scoring some itself.