SHEPHERDSTOWN — Return man C.J. Davis and his mates on Shepherd’s various special teams provided the Rams with a 57-17 conference win on Saturday over Notre Dame College.
The Rams got no less than seven important plays from their special teams.
Davis romped through the cool afternoon with a total of 249 return yards — 136 yards on punts and 113 yards on kickoffs. Davis scored with a 66-yard punt return and set up another score with a vital run of 60 yards to the Notre Dame eight.
The redshirt sophomore returned a kickoff 77 yards to the Falcon 13. In short order the Rams scored to go in front, 17-10. Davis gave an indication of just how important his contributions would be when he ran for 36 yards when bringing back the opening kickoff.
Three other times the Rams were given points or grand field position by their punt receiving team. That unit blocked a Notre Dame punt, tackled the staggering Falcon punter after he bobbled a snap — leading to a 24-10 halftime lead when the Rams scored with 22 seconds left in the second quarter — and tackled the same flummoxed punter in his end zone for a safety.
However, the Rams weren’t perfect in the area of special teams because punter Troy McNeill had one blocked that led directly to a field goal.
To further complicate the gray afternoon for the Falcons was the usual standard of excellence provided by the Shepherd defense. Notre Dame had one offensive score. And that came after the Rams were ahead, 38-10.
Notre Dame was limited to 61 rushing yards and only 14 first downs. Phillip Rhoden had an interception of one of the 41 passes the Falcons tried. Tim Durant recovered a fumble. The 21 completions produced only 175 passing yards.
Shepherd recorded four sacks of quarterback Ray Russ and had De’Ontre Johnson credited with 11 tackles and Levi Barber, Howard Jones and Rhoden make seven stops. Octavius Thomas had six tackles.
Notre Dame’s Hayden Davis made 15 tackles, 10 coming in the first half.
After Notre Dame tied it at 10-10 with a 74-yard fumble return touchdown, Shepherd quickly countered with two scores in the last 2:19 of the first half.
When Allen Cross counted the first of his two second-half scores and Davis made his way 66 yards on a punt return, the Shepherd lead stood at 38-10.
The Rams would dominate the second half, outscoring the Falcons, 33-7, after intermission.
With a 7-0 Mountain East Conference-leading record, the Rams have an open date this week before rejoining their schedule on Nov. 2 at conference rival, Glenville. Notre Dame is 3-4 after losing for the fourth time on the road.
Seven important plays from its special teams had made staying unbeaten and highly ranked on the national scene more comfortable for Shepherd, which gave redshirt freshmen quarterback, Jeff Ziemba, his first start of the season.
Davis must have disregarded over 50 tackle-attempts on his breezes through the overmatched Falcon offense, which usually stayed on the field on fourth down and had Russ punt from a few yards behind the line of scrimmage.
Those offensive players couldn’t block the Ram defenders. And they certainly couldn’t tackle Davis when asked to perform that chore.