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Shepherd survives, but loses RB Lynch

September 09, 2002|by DAN KAUFFMAN

kauffman@herald-mail.com

SHIPPENSBURG, Pa. - After suffering what could turn out to be the biggest loss of its season, Shepherd College made the plays it absolutely had to make to walk away with a victory as well.

One play after the Rams likely lost star running back Travis Lynch for the season with a broken left leg, Joel Gordon found Jamal Gardner in the back of the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown pass with 5 minutes, 38 seconds remaining. Matt Meadows then picked off a pass in the endzone with 14 seconds left to preserve a 17-10 victory over Shippensburg on Saturday afternoon at Seth Grove Stadium.

But without a doubt, the loss of Lynch, a 1,000-yard rusher last season, will be what Rams coach Monte Cater - now just four wins away from becoming the school's all-time winningest coach - will remember most.

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"He really carried us last year, and you know you're gonna get everything he has every game," a dejected Cater said. "He's a big loss. ... We have some other people who are going to have to step up for us."

Shepherd, ranked 20th in Division II, started at its own 26 with 7:30 left and the game tied at 10-10. On the second play, Gordon dumped the ball off to Lynch over the middle. Lynch turned it into a 24-yard catch, and a personal foul on Shippensburg moved the ball to the Red Raiders 35.

Two plays later, Gordon rolled right and found running room, scrambling to the 15 with 6:53 left.

After an incompletion, Lynch ran left on second down and tried to cut up the field, but was sandwiched by two defenders. Lynch remained down, and had to be carried off the field. After the game, it was learned Lynch broke his fibula.

"When Travis went down, we were pretty worried," Gordon said. "He's a big key to our offense."

Shaken by the loss of their teammate, the Rams shook it off on the next play, when Gordon found Gardner in the back of the end zone on a double move to take the lead.

"We got in the huddle, the play came in from the sideline, and the big guys looked at me and said, 'Go make a play.'" Gardner said. "I told them I'd make a big play, and I did."

"What we were looking for was to get a good matchup," Cater said. "We faked the slant, they jumped on it, and that's how he got open."

Undeterred, Shippensburg made one last charge starting from its own 24. A personal foul on Shepherd moved the ball past midfield to the Rams 43, and the Red Raiders converted two fourth-down plays, the second for a first down at Shepherd's 11 with 1:21 left.

Shippensburg ran two plays for five yards, before Jim Buffington - who completed 8 of 24 passes for just 66 yards - threw incomplete on third down with 20 seconds left.

On fourth down, Buffington took a step right and looked for Joel Gamble in the middle of the end zone, but Meadows jumped the play and picked it off to seal the win.

"The quarterback rolled out, and I don't think he saw me," Meadows said. "The tight end came out, and I stepped up in front. It was the last play, and I knew I had to step up."

"Our kids, they're confident coming in here," Cater said. "This is one of the toughest games we play, especially here, but we come in now knowing we can win."

Early on, it looked like the Gordon-Gardner connection would carry Shepherd (1-0) on its back. The two hooked up five times for 64 yards in the first half, and two of those - a 36-yard bomb down the left sideline that Gardner adjusted to in midair at the Shippensburg 12-yard line, and a slant to the 1 on the next play - set up Lynch's plunge into the end zone for a 7-0 lead with 33 seconds left in the first quarter.

Gordon completed 16 of 27 passes for 260 yards, while Gardner finished with six catches for 79 yards.

Despite racking up a 224-52 edge in yardage in the first half, the Rams only managed Kevin Burkey's 39-yard field goal with 6:12 left in the half for a 10-0 lead. Earlier in the second quarter, a 68-yard Gordon-to-Gardner touchdown bomb was called back on holding, and Burkey had a 22-yard field goal attempt blocked by Brent Grimes with 10:12 left.

The Red Raider offense, sluggish in the first half, took the second half kickoff and suddenly found holes in Shepherd's front seven. Fullback John Kuhn, held to 12 yards on three caries before halftime, rushed for 88 yards on 21 carries in the second half as Shippensburg (0-1) rushed 40 times for 219 yards after the half.

Kuhn's 1-yard touchdown with 7:32 left in the third quarter cut the lead to 10-7, and Craig Lough's 24-yard field goal with 7:36 remaining in the game tied it at 10-10.

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