With the one-point loss at West Liberty, Shepherd’s season now becomes a slippery slide home.
The 17-16 loss to the Hilltoppers brought several teams back into the WVIAC race for the league championship and berth in the NCAA Division II Regional playoffs.
Shepherd’s misfortune at West Liberty is the other contenders’ — primarily Charleston, Glenville, and West Liberty — good fortune.
With a 4-1 conference record, the Rams cannot be beaten again . . . or they will not be assured of any of the laurels to be dispensed at the close of the venerable conference’s last season.
Charleston has only one league loss, that a 16-10 defeat handed it by Shepherd. The Golden Eagles have won all their other games, while Shepherd has two losses with the second one coming in the season opener at Shippensburg.
The first of the no-mistake tests comes this Saturday at Lakin Field in Institute against West Virginia State. The Yellow Jackets have lost 25 straight times to a Monte Cater-coached Shepherd team.
Cater has a spotless 25-0 record against West Virginia State.
Here in 2012, the Yellow Jackets are 1-3 in the WVIAC and 2-5 overall with the wins being a 34-31 season-opening besting of Johnson C. Smith and a 21-13 conference success against winless Seton Hill.
The losses were to North Carolina A&T (77-0), Elon (48-14), Concord (23-16), West Liberty (52-19), and last week to Glenville (29-12).
The Rams had risen to 25th in one Division II poll before falling to West Liberty (4-3 overall and 3-2 in the conference).
A listless rushing offense, three turnovers (including two Bobby Cooper interceptions), and the weekly showering of penalties (nine of 84 yards) against the Rams were several of the causes of the one-point defeat to the Hilltoppers.
Kicking specialist Ryan Earls missed his placement try after Shepherd’s second touchdown in the last two minutes . . . as well as a 41-yard field goal attempt.
As has become a weekly necessity, the Shepherd special teams and rush-snuffing defense have been looked to for points as well as keeping any opponent secured and under 10 points.
The added burden to the defense was too much after Cooper threw a first-quarter interception that was returned for a touchdown.
Trae Tinsman replaced Cooper for several series in the third quarter, but his brief trial didn’t produce any points and Cooper returned in the last period. Tinsman was 3-for-7 for only nine yards with his passes.
West Liberty finished with minus nine yards rushing and lost four turnovers to the Rams, one being Keon Robinson’s interception of a Dylan Legarde pass.
Without still-injured free safety Corey Washington, Shepherd didn’t block any punts, field goal attempts, or extra points and could not produce points with any of its special teams — an added onus since its offense has produced few points in too many games this season.
West Virginia State is next. It’s the last road game of the fast-disappearing list of games. And it’s a game Shepherd has to have … or its final season in the close-to-defunct WVIAC will be chronicled as an “also-ran” for the still contending Rams.