WEST LIBERTY — Despite having its defense close down West Liberty’s ground offense and keeping the thrice-beaten Hilltoppers to only 12 first downs, Shepherd simply could not generate enough points to keep its WVIAC record spotless.
The Rams had the Hilltoppers take a Bobby Cooper-thrown interception back for one of the two West Liberty scores . . . and the home team did just enough to get a 17-16 win over the visiting Rams.
The conference loss jeopardizes Shepherd’s niche at the top of the WVIAC where it still leads with a 4-1 league record. Charleston is right behind the Rams with a 3-1 conference mark and others,
including West Liberty, have just two league losses.
Even though it was limited to only 289 yards of total offense and coughed up four turnovers, West Liberty could win with Roy White’s six-yard interception-return score, K. Trueblood’s 19-yard TD run, and Jeff Hoak’s 37-yard field goal.
Shepherd lost two Cooper interceptions and a runner’s fumble, was penalized nine times for 84 yards, and had to swallow a missed extra point attempt by Ryan Earls in the game’s final two minutes.
The Rams could manage only 14 first downs.
Earls’ 31-yard field goal and Mike Haynes’ one-yard touchdown run were Shepherd’s only points in a first half that saw the Rams trailing, 17-10, at intermission.
Even though it was shut out in the second half, West Liberty managed to blank the Rams until Billy Brown made an acrobatic catch of a 28-yard Cooper pass with 1:33 remaining to play. But Earls missed the extra point. And the Rams were saddled with their first conference loss.
The most-used Shepherd runner — Allen Cross — had just 22 rushing yards on 16 carries (1.4 yards per try). Cooper completed 19-of-31 passes for 200 yards. Trae Tinsman replaced Cooper long enough in the third quarter to go 3-for-7 with his pass-attempts for nine yards. Cooper played all of the fourth quarter.
Shepherd was 5-2 overall and had a half-game lead over Charleston in the WVIAC race. The Hilltoppers were 4-3 overall and were a game behind Shepherd in the conference race with a 3-2 record.