INDIANA, Pa. — It was the opening round of the NCAA Division II Super Region One football playoffs. Shepherd, champion of the WVIAC, was on the road at Indiana, champion of the PSAC. Both teams had stellar defenses that were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the nation. Would mistakes decide the outcome? Would one team be able to run on the other . . . and by doing so win the game?
Indiana rushed for 203 yards. The Crimson Hawks had one turnover. Shepherd rushed for 154 yards. The Rams had three turnovers . . . missed a field goal from the 15-yard line . . . lost the time of possession battle 23:12 to 36:48, converted 4-of-12 third down situations . . . had only 96 passing yards . . . had an interception returned for touchdown by the Crimson Hawks . . . lost a fumble on their own 28 that was turned into a score by Indiana . . . and eventually ceded the game’s last 13 points as Indiana claimed a 27-17 win last Saturday on a perfect afternoon for football in western Pennsylvania.
The 11-1 Crimson Hawks travel to face the 11-0 New Haven Chargers this Saturday, the same afternoon when 11-1 Shippensburg travels to Winston Salem State (11-0) in the other Super Region One semifinal game.
Shepherd’s season was closed with another conference championship and an 8-3 overall record.
Indiana scored first after recovering a lost Shepherd fumble on the Rams’ 28.
Early in the second period, a Shepherd drive from its own 17 stalled on the Indiana eight. Ryan Earls’ field goal try from the 15 was wide right. And Indiana still had its 7-0 lead.
Later in the second quarter, the Rams had an 11-play, 80-yard drive that was capped when quarterback Bobby Cooper scrambled 18 yards for the game-tying score.
Before the second period closed, Indiana was in front after Carl Fleming stole a Cooper pass and returned it 77 yards for a score. Brett Ullman’s extra point helped the Crimson Hawks to a 14-7 lead at halftime.
Ullman had missed a 27-yard field goal try in the quarter.
In the third quarter, Shepherd’s D. J. Scott had a 31-yard punt return that had the Rams beginning a drive at the Indiana 29.
Cooper closed a four-play drive with a one-yard touchdown run. And it was tied again at 14.
Several series later, the Rams had a fourth-and-three situation at the Indiana 20, but a false start penalty pushed them back to the 25 where Earls was successful on his 42-yard field goal attempt that pushed Shepherd into the lead at 17-14.
Before the quarter ended, the Crimson Hawks marched 66 yards in nine plays with De’Antwan Williams scoring from the five. Indiana had reclaimed the lead at 21-17.
The last quarter would feature two Ullman field goals as the only scoring. With 12:03 remaining, he made a 39-yarder to extend Indiana’s lead to 24-17. And with 9:11 remaining, he was true on a 31-yard try that put the lead into double figures at 27-17.
Shepherd’s last possession saw it at the Indiana 42 and facing a fourth-and-one problem. Cooper tried to run for the yard and was stopped short.
Indiana took over with fully 6:37 remaining.
The Crimson Hawks put on display their ability to grind out yardage on the ground . . . and to kill the clock.
With 11 running plays an incomplete pass, Indiana went 41 yards and took all the clock in doing it.
Shepherd couldn’t get the ball back.
The still-functioning-well Shepherd defense had free safety David Carter with 13 tackles, nose tackle Mike Franklin with 10, reserve Xavier Tyler with eight and A.J. Parrish with seven.
Howard Jones had the only sack and Keon Robinson recovered a fumble. Fleming led Indiana with 13 stops while Johnny Franco had 12, Alexander Berdahl eight stops and an interception, and Carl Thornton eight tackles.
It had been losing in the turnover column and seeing the Crimson Hawks take control through most of the second half that had kept the Rams from moving on to the next round.