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Shepherd to continue title hunt

November 03, 2000

Shepherd to continue title hunt



By BOB PARASILITI / Staff Writer


SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Championship games have been part of the norm at Shepherd College over the years.

In fact, over the last three years, playing for titles - be it for West Virginia Conference or national playoff crowns - have been the Rams' personal playground.

But this year, the playground is littered with bullies. Shepherd's drive for a fourth straight WVC crown went from leisurely to critical three weeks ago with a loss to Fairmont State. Now every week has been a battle for championship survival, with the ultimate test coming 1 p.m. today at West Liberty.

"All these games have been championship games since the Fairmont game," Shepherd coach Monte Cater said. "This is nothing different coming this one."

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In reality, it is much different.

In the last few years, Shepherd has set the tone as the team to beat. The Rams have been the team everyone is chasing, usually having a game or two cushion in case of any mishaps.

But this year was different. The lost to Fairmont not only all but knocked Shepherd out of the national playoff picture, but it put its championship string in jeopardy.

Only Fairmont's 34-0 victory over the Hilltoppers two weeks ago afforded Shepherd the opportunity of a three-way tie for the title. Today, at least one of the teams will fall off the pace as the loser of the Shepherd-West Liberty game will be out of the running. Meanwhile, Fairmont will host Concord.

"All the games are must games now," Cater said. "Sometimes when you stumble, you never get the chance to get it right and get back into the race. But we're back in it and for the last three weeks I have been telling the kids that that particular game is our championship game and that if we lose, we're out. They have been living with it since the Fairmont game."

The challenge is ahead for the Rams. In West Liberty, they face the best defensive team in the WVC, especially against the run which is Shepherd's specialty. Shepherd is averaging 290 rushing, led by Dalevon Smith with 159.1 yards per game. West Liberty is allowing just 98.6 yards on the ground per game.

"The championship game this week is against the best defense in the league," Cater said. "They are playing this year like we had been doing the last couple of years."

Shepherd's defense has been commendable, but has stretched for yardage in inopportune situations. Still, both teams lead the league allowing just 16.4 points per game.

West Liberty will keep a dubious streak alive for Shepherd. It will be the fourth consecutive week the Rams will be facing a WVC player of the week. Hilltoppers quarterback Tim Hicks won last week's offensive honor by throwing for 328 yards and four touchdowns in a 28-10 win over West Virginia University-Tech while defensive back Mark Ceglie shared the defensive honor for his three interceptions and nine tackles.

With all the factors in, Shepherd finds itself in a good news, bad news scenario as every goal the Rams set for themselves this season is on the line today.

"The last couple of years, we didn't have to worry," Cater said. "If we lost, we were just in a position to share the title. This year, if we lose, we are out of it but West Liberty can say the same thing. It's still nice to be in this position. A lot of teams would like to be in it."

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