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Rams turn rout into a struggle

September 04, 2005|By BOB PARASILITI

bobp@hearld-mail.com

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - The difference in the Shippensburg-Shepherd University game sat deeply in the back of Red Raiders quarterback Tony Gomez's eyes.

They became required reading for Shepherd linebacker Jeremy Bailey.

Bailey followed Gomez's pupils around the goal line and knocked down a two-point conversion pass intended for Walter Crump in the back of the end zone to end Shippensburg's unlikely comeback and secure a 34-32 victory for the Rams on Saturday at Ram Stadium.

The Rams led 34-20 with 12:19 remaining. The Red Raiders hung up a pair of touchdowns in the final three minutes to get close, but missed both conversion attempts to seal their fate.

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"Coaches never quit," Shippensburg coach Rocky Rees said. "Neither do football players. That's why you have to play every play like it means something."

Gomez scored on a 1-yard dive with 2:46 remaining, but kicker Jamie Reder misstepped on the extra point and kicked it into the back of the Shippensburg line. The loose ball started a mad scrum downfield, with the Rams getting to the Shippensburg 10 in an attempt to earn the two points themselves before the play ended with an illegal-block penalty.

The Red Raiders capitalized on an onside kick, with Kyle Forgarty jumping into the Rams' front line and recovering the kick just past the 10 yards an onside kick is required to travel.

Gomez re-entered the game after missing most of the second half with an injury. On a fourth-and-16 play from the Rams 35, Gomez connected with Crump for what could have been the tying touchdown on a fly pattern with 1:01 remaining, putting the Red Raiders in position to be tied in a game Shepherd should have won going away.

On the conversion, Crump motioned right in Shippensburg's triple-back backfield and tried to circle into the back of the end zone. Gomez locked on him and threw, but Bailey batted it away.

"I was reading his eyes and just reading where he was looking," Bailey said "That's where I wanted to be. I want to be the one to make that play like everyone else does. That's what we practice for."

Bailey cradled the ball like a newborn baby after the game, getting the feel of it for a few fleeting minutes.

"This is one of our game balls," he said. "I don't know what I'm doing with it, but I'll give it back."

It was a wild ending to a game Shepherd basically dominated for three quarters. The Rams held a 33:41-23:39 advantage in time of possession, including a 2-to-1 margin after three quarters.

Shepherd also had a 411-310 edge in total yardage, including a 324-153 edge after three quarters.

It was an unusual Shepherd-Shippensburg matchup. Usually the games are dominated by hard-nosed running, but on Saturday, the two teams combined for 72 passing attempts and 457 yards through the air.

Shepherd opened up the running game by throwing the ball, as quarterback Dan Chlebowski hit on 18 of 28 passes for 198 yards, including a 77-yard scoring pitch to Mark Springirth to give the Rams the 34-20 lead.

"We lost a little poise there," Shepherd coach Monte Cater said. "I have never seen so many things go against us in such little time. That was the biggest part for us - to keep things going and move the chains. We have the ability to score from 80 yards, but we aren't going to do it all the time."

Despite the passing game, the Rams grounded out two 100-yard, two-touchdown games from new running backs Bryan Wright and Dervon Wallace.

Wright finished with 111 yards on 16 carries, including a 14-yard scoring run in the first quarter and a 52-yard jaunt in the third. Wallace had 105 yards in 20 carries, including a 5-yard score in the second to give the Rams a 14-3 halftime lead and a 34-yard score in the third quarter as Shepherd built a 28-13 lead.

Shippensburg's scores came on a pair of Jamie Reder field goals and a 98-yard kickoff return by Brent Grimes.

Backup quarterback Rick Henshaw threw a 13-yard scoring pass to Andrew Heisler, and later dived in from the 1 to put the Red Raiders back in the game.

After holding the commanding lead, it came down to quick reactions to win the game for the Rams.

"You tell me," Bailey said. "We didn't want the game to be like that, but the defense stepped up when we needed it."

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