Shepherd has a loss. Not a season-crippling loss, mind you. But a loss that means no NCAA playoffs if the Rams don’t become the WVIAC champions come mid-November.
The Rams lost two conference games last season. Even though the overall record with an exemplary 9-2, there was no playoff bid extended by the NCAA. It was Concord that was the conference champion. It was Concord that went to the playoffs.
Here it is, only the fourth week of the season.
And the Shepherd at Charleston game to be staged at Laidley Field could well turn out to be the most important one of the 2012 West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference season.
Seton Hill was beaten, giving Shepherd a 1-0 beginning to its eight-game conference schedule. Seton Hill was only 1-10 last year.
Corey Washington, Shepherd’s disruptive free safety and special teams force, missed that game with a foot injury. Kenny Williams started the season as the starter at tailback. He is gone. D.J. Hall, a defensive starter in the first two games, did not play at Seton Hill.
Shepherd can replace most of its players and not see a huge dropoff in production. Shepherd cannot adequately replace Corey Washington, especially on special teams where his penchant for blocking punts, field goal attempts, and extra point attempts is unequaled on this team.
Many a Shepherd win in the past 25 years has come on the shoulders of its usual steady stream of strong-shoulder or will-o’-the-wisp runners and its steady stream of able offensive linemen. Even after three games (and a 2-1 record), little has changed when the concern about the Rams’ offensive line is cautiously mentioned.
There were nearly 150 ground yards gained in beating Seton Hill. But none of Williams’ replacements could achieve even a four yards-per-carry average.
And then there is Charleston’s 3-0 overall record. Two wins came against nondescript opponents. But then came a 17-14 win in Athens over defending conference champion Concord.
That defensive struggle got everybody’s attention.
If Concord stands tall against Shepherd’s ground offense, what then?
If neither team can do much scoring . . . and the turnovers are even . . . will the game be decided by the special teams? And Shepherd is without Corey Washington.
This might just be a ‘must-win’ for the Rams. A loss will mean they couldn’t find an effective running game. And it will mean Concord is still ahead, along with Glenville and West Liberty — teams that have shown themselves to be capable at times.
Shepherd is 2-1. Charleston is 3-0.
There’s a famous line from the movie “Forrest Gump” that implores the troubled youth to “Run, Forrest, Run” when a group of bullies confronts him.
In this case, it’s Charleston that stands as a “bully” in front of the Rams. And nobody needs to yell out “Run, Shepherd, Run” to a team has to find more rushing yards somewhere.