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Rams begin postseason with historic home game

November 18, 2005|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - The Shepherd University football team supports a theory of evolution all its own.

The Rams' success and progress over the years can be measured in many ways, starting with the passing of the torch between coaches Walter Barr and Monte Cater.

Or take a look at the change of uniform styles over the years.

While many beliefs at Shepherd remain constant, the Rams' arrival as a national playoff football team can be linked to its home field, Ram Stadium.

In Shepherd's seventh trip to college football's postseason - the third in eight years as an NCAA Division II program - the Rams will be in a unique situation. They will be hosting C.W. Post on Saturday at noon in the first home football playoff game in school history.

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"To finally get a game here is big," said Cater, who has guided the Rams to all three NCAA berths and nine West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championships in his 19 years at Shepherd. "Now we have a facility that can hold it, even though we have to worry about the field. Now it's a huge deal."

The home playoff game in the second round of the Division II tournament is a symbol to the big season Shepherd's football team enjoyed. Not only did the Rams win their second straight WVC championship, they are riding an 18-game winning streak. In the meantime, Cater became the WVC's all-time winningest coach with 129 victories.

Shepherd is the top seed in the Northeast Region. They were the higher seed before, but didn't get to host a playoff game.

"In 1999, we made the playoffs and got to go to Millersville (for a 21-14 loss)," Cater said. "We thought we should have had the game here, but we didn't have any seating."

That might have been the start of a huge facelift for Ram Stadium. The old home field used to have all its stands and press box on the east side of the field. The west looked like a rock-climbing experiment as brave fans used to sit in lawn chairs to watch games.

In 2000, expanded seating and a new press box were unveiled on the west side of the stadium. In years to come, the Rams, largely by a donation from Kenneth Boone, erected a field house in the north end zone, which ended the team's runs to the Butcher Center to find a dressing room.

"Just the evolution and where the facility is now is big," Cater said. "It took the work of the administration, the alumni and Ken Boone to get us this facility. They made it all possible. We have had good teams before, but we needed the facility. Now we only have to worry about the playing surface."

The home game gives Cater and the Rams a different set - and slightly smaller - list of important details to attend to for the game.

The first may be to get everybody to realize the opportunity at hand.

"The campus has never experienced anything like this," Cater said. "The kids haven't been in anything like this either. For most of them, the only thing they can compare this to is playing for a state championship. For the seniors and the redshirt seniors, it is great for them to be able to punch out of here after winning the conference title at home, and being able to play the first playoff game here is something no one has experienced before."

Cater said the first-week bye in the playoffs has caused some unusual feelings, but the emphasis is staying with the system that brought the Rams to this point.

"Now we are at the point of one and done," Cater said. "The thing that is different is the bye week. You don't usually have one this late in the season, especially while other teams are turning in their equipment. We have to look at it as a chance to get everybody healthy enough to play and to work on our field."

Still playing in the playoffs - especially at home - has many implications and one instance that Cater and the Rams won't miss at all.

"We are not just playing for Shepherd College, but we are playing for the entire conference," Cater said. "This conference doesn't get much respect. The great thing about it all is that we don't have to be on a bus going anywhere this time."

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