SHEPHERDSTOWN – West Chester found a way to push Shepherd’s defense around a bit on Saturday at Ram Stadium, but the Rams’ defense dug in when it needed to on West Chester’s last possession of the game.
On fourth-and-two at the Rams’ 29-yard line, with 58 seconds to go in the game, West Chester quarterback Shane Dooley tried to hit Dan Neuhaus with a potential, drive sustaining pass, but with the Rams defending on the play, Dooley’s pass fell incomplete.
Shepherd took over at its own 29. With West Chester out of timeouts, the Rams went into a victory formation to run out the clock, preserving a 42-38 win over the Golden Rams before a homecoming crowd of 5,911.
“I’m so happy with how we fought to win this game,” Shepherd running back Ty Hebron said. “I love it when we go through adversity because it just builds us up and makes us better.”
Shepherd (7-1, 4-1 PSAC) was ranked 11th in the most recent NCAA Division II football poll. Saturday’s win over West Chester means the Rams have a good chance of cracking the top 10 among Division II schools when the updated poll is released this week.
Saturday’s game ended up being a shootout of sorts between two of the league’s top quarterbacks.
West Chester signal-caller Shane Dooley, back from a recent injury, completed 20-of-30 passes for 276 yards and five touchdowns. Shepherd’s Tyson Bagent, the league’s top quarterback, completed 19 of 27 passes for 234 yards and three TDs.
With both quarterbacks on top of their respective games, it came as little to surprise to anyone that Saturday’s game might turn out to be a high-scoring affair.
The Rams jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, thanks to a 26-yard TD run from Hebron and a 2-yard quarterback keeper by Bagent. West Chester answered with a Dooley-to-Ja’Den McKenzie, 18-yard touchdown pass with four minutes left in the first quarter.
Hebron broke an 84-yard touchdown run for Shepherd early in the second quarter. A Hayden August-Scriv extra-point kick gave the Rams a 21-7 lead, but a pair of scores from West Chester left the Rams clinging to a 21-17 lead at the half.
“We knew West Chester had some good linebackers, so our coaches told us to press them, be patient,” said Hebron, who finished with 174 yards on 11 carries, and two touchdowns. “Sure enough, our linemen opened up some holes to run through.”
Saturday’s second half turned into a back-and-forth affair.
West Chester took its first lead of the game with 12:07 left in the third quarter when Dooley hit Seth Degree with a 35-yard touchdown pass. Sean Henry’s kick gave West Chester a 24-21 lead. At the 10:45 mark, Bagent tossed a short, 3-yard TD strike Ryan Beach, with August-Scriv’s kick giving the Rams the lead again, 28-24.
The momentum swung back to West Chester with 8:14 left in the quarter as Dooley threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Rasheem James. Another kick from Henry put West Chester up, once again, by a 31-28 score.
It was time for Shepherd to take the lead again in this down-to-the wire battle.
Ronnie Brown caught a 42-yard TD pass from Bagent with 7:07 left in the third quarter. The extra-point kick put the Rams up by four, 35-31.
Five minutes later, West Chester was ahead again, this time on a 39-yard, Dooley-to-Degree touchdown hook-up. Henry’s kick gave the Golden Rams a 38-35 lead.
Shepherd had one last score left in it—the one that counted.
The Rams took the ensuing kickoff and went 73 yards on nine plays, with Josh Gontarek catching an 11-yard touchdown pass from Bagent with 12:47 left on the clock. August Scriv’s extra-point kick ended the game’s scoring, with Shepherd leading, 42-38.
“We knew West Chester was a good football team,” Shepherd coach Ernie McCook said. “They got their quarterback back. They hadn’t had him all year, so they settled into a quarterback. I think he did a great job.”
McCook noted even though West Chester edged Shepherd in total offense by just four yards, 433-429, he felt the Rams’ defense handled the changes, against an offense it hadn’t seen, very well.
“West Chester has a great ground game,” McCook said.
With all of the scoring completed, it was time for the Rams’ defense to make one final stand against West Chester with time running out.
Following a Shepherd punt, with four minutes left in the game, the Golden Rams took over at their own 33, marched all the way down to the Shepherd 29. Dooley then threw pair of incompletions.
On third-and-10, Dooley tried for yardage on a keeper play but was stopped at the line of scrimmage by Shepherd’s Chrys Lane with 1:03 left on the clock. West Chester took its final time-out.
On fourth-and-10, Dooley looked to Neuhaus on a short pass pattern, but the pass was incomplete. The Rams took over and ran out the clock.
“When I talk about this football team, ever since the summertime, the grit that they’ve showed, day in and day out, for the last two years, I think that showed in this game,” McCook said. “This is a hard-nosed team. We had a great opponent we have a lot of respect for. I’m glad we got the win.”
Beach was Shepherd’s top receiver, with five catches for 58 yards and a touchdown. Lane and Juwan Addison each had two quarterback sacks for the Rams. Kyle Smith had one sack.