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Ram search for more answers vs. W.Va. State

October 21, 2002|by DAN KAUFFMAN

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - One week ago, on the heels of two losses, all Shepherd College's football team had were questions. Questions with the offense, questions with the defense, questions seemingly everywhere.

There's nothing like a victory to help answer questions, as the Rams' 27-7 win over Fairmont State last week restored some optimism.

Questions about the lack of big plays on offense? Answered by Jamal Gardner's 66-yard touchdown on a swing pass from Joel Gordon.

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Questions about the defense, especially in the secondary? Answered as the Rams held Fairmont to 129 yards passing - and as an added bonus, Ron Frazier, moved to outside linebacker from cornerback, returned an interception 44 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown that sealed the win.

Questions about the special teams? Answered by West Virginia Conference special teams player of the week Dustin Dudinski, who returned five punts for 79 yards and one kickoff for 15 more, while also forcing a fumble.

"The thing that pleased us is we had so many people and so many segments of the team that contributed," Shepherd head coach Monte Cater - who can tie the Rams' career record for coaching wins with one today against West Virginia State - said. "We've been looking for the big play all year long, and we finally got one."

Actually, two.

Gardner's touchdown catch was the first touchdown of longer than 15 yards by the Rams this season.

"(The swing pass) is a staple for us," Cater said. "If they don't cover it, we're gonna throw it. We got some great blocks out there, and Jamal split them. I hope it's a sign of things to come."

Later, Frazier's interception return became the second-longest touchdown for Shepherd this season, as the Rams rediscovered the big plays that have been a hallmark over the years.

Still, consistency has not been a part of Shepherd's attack, especially in the passing game. Gordon - who became the Rams' career leader in pass completions last week and has 460 in his career - completed 11 of 25 for 167 yards, but had two touchdown throws dropped by receivers against Fairmont.

"We usually do a better job catching the football, but not that day," Cater said. "The last two games, we haven't caught the ball well.

"We haven't broken out in terms of scoring, and maybe that's not our style this year. The consistency is our offense has still not been there like I'd like it to be, but I think it can still be there."

Shepherd is still struggling to cope with various injuries. Michael Walker and Alex Herbert - who have taken the place of Travis Lynch - rebounded from a poor game against West Virginia Tech to combine for 156 yards and two touchdowns against Fairmont. Meanwhile, outside linebacker Daniel Winning and defensive lineman Brian Baker are out again this week. Demar Atwood and Mike Bailey filled in last week and will see action this week.

"We had a number of players step up and help us out, and I thought that was big," Cater said. "We've stayed pretty healthy over the years, and maybe it's our turn."

The Rams have lost their last two on the road, but West Virginia State (1-5, 0-2) has struggled thus far. It's an opportunity for Shepherd to rediscover what it takes to win away from home, but Cater knows it won't be easy, despite what the records may indicate.

"We haven't played a dog, we've played good football teams, and I don't see that changing anytime soon," Cater said. "There's some good teams in our conference this year, and I don't see any easy ones."

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