Second chance at title keeps Rams interested

November 11, 2002|by DAN KAUFFMAN

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - When Shepherd's football team lost its West Virginia Conference opener at West Virginia University-Tech, the Rams' conference title hopes seemed all but left for dead.

Four wins later, Shepherd finds itself tied for the lead with Tech and West Virginia Wesleyan, thanks in part to the Rams' season-saving fourth-quarter rally against West Liberty last weekend, and also in part to Wesleyan's 28-17 upset of Tech.

"This is our second chance," Shepherd coach Monte Cater said. "Not a lot of teams get that chance. If we don't do anything with it, it's our fault."


The Rams (6-2, 4-1) have won four straight do-or-die conference games to put themselves in position for a conference crown that was improbable at best a month ago. Only two home games stand between Shepherd and at least a share of that crown - including the Rams' biggest game to date, today's matchup with Wesleyan (5-4, 4-1) that will eliminate one from title contention.

"We know if we take care of Saturday, we're right there," Cater said. "But if we don't, it's over."

Shepherd's title hopes nearly came crashing down against West Liberty, but the Rams scored twice in the final six minutes to pull out a 26-23 victory that, should Shepherd go on to win the conference, will go down as the defining moment in the Rams' run to the title.

Trailing 23-14 against West Liberty, Ron Frazier's fumble recovery set up Alex Herbert's 16-yard touchdown run with 5:13 remaining to cut the lead to three. The Rams' defense forced a punt, and Shepherd took over on its own 35-yard line with 2:39 left.

Shepherd marched 65 yards in 2:16, with Joel Gordon completing five of six passes - four to Jamal Gardner - and also running 11 yards to the West Liberty 29 for another first down. At the West Liberty 10, Gordon finished the drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Gardner with 23 seconds left, giving the Rams a 26-23 lead.

"We were able to make plays and move the ball 65 yards in two minutes," Cater said. "That certainly was a huge drive. ... Our kids believed that we could. It was a big deficit, but we made big plays to come back. We moved the ball down pretty quick at the end to get the touchdown in the final seconds."

Matt Meadows' interception in the final seconds sealed Shepherd's victory. A short time later, the Rams learned of Wesleyan's upset of Tech.

"To win one like that, and to win it on the road, then to find out you're back in (the conference title race) with a shot at winning the title, it made the trip home that much shorter," Cater said.

However, there's still business to tend to. Everything good that happened to the Rams last weekend would be washed away with a loss today against Wesleyan, which ended the Rams' title hopes last year by beating Shepherd, 23-15.

Wesleyan running back Duriel Cobb ran for 219 yards on 41 carries against Tech last weekend to earn conference Offensive Player of the Week honors, and leads the conference with 1,205 yards rushing this season. Stopping Cobb will be a key for the Rams.

"With the exception of Shippensburg, this is probably the best running team we'll see," Cater said. "We realize we have to play pretty well defensively, but we also have to play well offensively. If we let them keep the ball all day, we're in trouble."

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