Walter Barr and his 1983 Shepherd football team prepared to make school history.
Even the unbeaten Rams of 1955 had not been invited to any postseason playoffs or national happenings.
Coach Barr, in his 13th season as the head coach at his alma mater, had won the WVIAC championship with a perfect 8-0 league mark. Shepherd’s overall record was 9-1 because it had lost in the schedule’s second week at California (Pa.) and had opened at home with a victory over Millersville (Pa.).
At 9-1, Barr and company were extended a bid to the NAIA national playoffs.
Shepherd’s home grounds were too small to host a playoff game. Ram Stadium might comfortably house 1,800 for a game, but there was no fixed seating on the hill on the west side of the field.
The Rams were to travel to Tennessee to face the playoff-savvy Eagles of Carson-Newman.
Carson-Newman was regular guest to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics playoffs. And the Eagles went on to the next round of those 1983 playoffs with a 42-21 move past Shepherd.
A breakthrough had been accomplished. History has been dented. But it was Carson-Newman that carried on through the playoffs.
Barr abruptly resigned after two more seasons and Mike Jacobs was named the head coach for the 1986 campaign.
The Rams brushed aside all the WVIAC opposition and went on to a 7-0 conference record and a league championship. The overall regular season record was 8-2 because there had been a non-conference win over Shippensburg and losses to both Millersville and California.
Invited to the NAIA playoffs again, there was never a hint Shepherd could host a game because that same hillside was only suitable for lawn chairs, blankets to be sat upon, and the ever-present hecklers that teased the opponents below them on the sidelines.
Where would Shepherd go on this second trip to the national playoffs? Why, Carson-Newman, of course.
The Eagles quickly ushered the Rams out of the postseason with a 30-10 win over the WVIAC champions.
Jacobs only coached for one season and was replaced by the first year of what has become the Monte Cater Era.
It was in 1991 that Cater’s second WVIAC championship team went through the conference with a 7-0 record and was called to the playoffs. The overall regular season mark was 8-2 and there had been a win posted over Georgetown (Kentucky) and losses dealt by Shippensburg and Millersville as the Rams actually began the year with an 0-2 record.
That team had captains Todd Cutlip, Todd Cook, Jamie Cutter, and Jim Signora.
Central State of Ohio was the site of that season’s playoff game. And the Rams fell, 34-22.
Another 7-0 WVIAC record and league championship brought a playoff bid in 1992. Overall, Cater’s second playoff team earned an 8-2 regular season record what with non-conference success against Shippensburg and losses to Millersville and New Haven.
Shepherd had never won a playoff game.
That changed in 1992 when nemesis Carson-Newman was beaten, 6-3, on the Eagles’ home grounds in Tennessee. A second-round game in the state of North Carolina resulted in a 22-7 loss to Gardner-Webb.
The next Cater-coached visit to the national plaoffs came in 1998 and Shepherd was by then a member of the NCAA Division II ranks.
A season-opening loss to Shippensburg was methodically followed by nine straight wins . . . and a 7-0 conference record that drew a league championship banner with it.
James Rooths and Damian Beane were the most decorated players on that team that had captains Jay Green, Brian Lamb, and Mike Pitts.
Ram Stadium was still unsuitable for any national playoff game so the Rams went to Indiana (Pa.) on a frigid Saturday to begin the postseason.
The Rams held a much-tested 7-0 lead when the Crimson Hawks scored. Rooths blocked the extra point try and ran it back to the Indiana end zone for two points. Shepherd won, 9-6.
The next week it was off to equally cold Slippery Rock in western Pennsylvania. The Rockets stabbed the Rams, 31-20, to end that playoff run.
By the 2005 season, Ram Stadium was finally made suitable to host a NCAA Division II playoff game.
The 5,000-seat stadium was needed when the Rams coursed through an 11-0 regular season, seeing only close games in wins over Shippensburg (34-32) and Fairmont (14-11).
Dervon Wallace, Dan Peters, and company had a first-round bye and then saw the green-and-yellow Green Bay Packer-style uniforms of C.W. Post from Long Island.
The New York visitors had the most effective quarterback to ever play in Shepherdstown and they muzzled the Ram offense in the second half to get away with a 28-21 win.
A second straight unbeaten regular season followed in 2006 when the Rams were 10-0 and the conference champions again.
Another first-round bye was followed by a 31-7 win over Northeastern-10 champion, Merrimack. But on a sunny first Saturday in December, the Rams fell, 24-21, at home to the Bloomsburg Huskies and the season closed with a second consecutive 11-1 overall record.
It was in 2007 that the Rams earned a third straight playoff bid when they were the WVIAC champions and showed a 9-1 regular season mark.
Wallace, Mike Spiegelberg, Joey Hooks, and Clark Lanzendorf were the team captains and only a loss to Glenville kept away another unbeaten showing.
In the playoffs at Ram Stadium, there was a tense and highly entertaining, 41-34, win over Indiana’s Crimson Hawks.
In the next round, California came to Shepherdstown on December 1 for a noon-time game. And the Vulcans left with a lofty-scoring, 58-38, win that pushed them into the national semifinals.
The last time Shepherd visited the national playoffs became the high-water mark in the college’s football history. It was just two seasons back in 2010.
Tommy Addison was healthy and his running highlighted many of the Rams’ nine regular season wins. The team’s captains were Ben Minturn, Brian Taylor, Bobby Humphries, Elijah Davis, and Kevin Clancy. Keon Robinson had an All-America season as a freshman. And the special teams spelled the difference at times.
Shepherd reeled off nine wins to reach a weather-perfect November 13 date at Ram Stadium with Glenville. Glenville scored very late to win, 28-24, and scatter the unbeaten Shepherd record.
The Rams dropped to the No. 4 seed in the six-team Regional playoffs. They hosted — and dispatched — Shaw, 40-6, in the first round. Top-seeded Kutztown was next on a frigid Nov. 27 afternoon in Pennsylvania.
Kutztown led in the second half. But the game’s last two touchdowns went to Shepherd and the Rams took their blue lips and numb toes off to their dressing quarters with a 41-34 win.
Next was the national quarterfinals. Way off in Erie, Pa. against the Mercyhurst Lakers.
The field had been covered in snow only days before the Rams trounced the Lakers, 49-14. The win brought Shepherd to the semifinals.
Off in Cleveland, Mississippi, the Rams found a water-covered field against the Statesmen of Delta State. Key figures were injured during the mud-filled outing. And Delta State surged into the national championship game after trimming the Rams, 29-17.
And last weekend it was back to the NCAA Division II playoffs for the conference-champion Rams. Back on the road to Indiana in western Pennsylvania as the sixth-seeded team in the Super Region One setting.
Back on the playoff road first traveled by Walter Barr and the 1983 Shepherd team.