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Rams rout Merrimack

November 26, 2006|by TIM KOELBLE

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Shepherd University began filling its quota of big defensive plays early Saturday.

The Rams' offense eventually caught up, and the combination resulted in a 31-7 victory over Merrimack College in the second round of the NCAA Division II playoffs - the first-ever playoff victory for Shepherd on its home turf.

Senior Dan Peters intercepted two passes - one that set up Dervon's Wallace 5-yard touchdown run in the second period for a 7-0 lead, the other that led to Shepherd's longest run in school history, when Bryan Wright ran 97 yards for a touchdown that capped the win.

Peters' picks gave him 11 for the season and tied him with Jason Johnson for the school record for career interceptions at 29.

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It didn't stop there with the defense. Sophomore linebacker Louis Corum picked off a pass in the second quarter and returned it 23 yards for a touchdown - his first - and a 14-0 lead.

"That's something I didn't expect," said Corum. "Michael (Speigelberg) put some great pressure on the quarterback. The line did great pressure work all day."

All told, Shepherd intercepted Merrimack quarterback Colin Temple four times. The first came on the third play of the game when safety Ayo Ijelu stepped in front of Warriors tight end Ryan Salter.

"This was one of the biggest wins ever at Shepherd, not that there haven't been any before," said Rams coach Monte Cater. "The defense came up with the big plays, especially considering the stage we were on."

Merrimack (8-4), playing in a Division II second-round playoff game for the first time, sliced the Shepherd lead to 14-7 entering halftime when Temple hit Chris McNeill on a nice slant from 27 yards to cap a nine-play, 67-yard drive, its longest of the day.

Shepherd, ranked fifth in the AFCA Division II poll, needed its defense while the offense tried to awaken from its noontime slumber. The Rams gained only 81 yards in total offense in the first half.

"(Shepherd) is a fabulous team and we stood toe-to-toe with them for a while," said Merrimack coach Jim Murphy. "We played 1-AA Rhode Island and they had a tough run defense, and today, we found out what a No. 1 seed is like. We were a little too out-gunned."

The Rams' offensive chemistry took a hit in the second period when quarterback Dan Chlebowski was pummeled by Merrimack's Shane Brown as he scrambled out of the pocket. His left foot stuck in the turf as he was bent backward on Brown's hit, and he kept pressure off of his left leg as he was helped off the field, leaving his duties for backup Tyler Lazear.

Chlebowski, a Greencastle-Antrim graduate, spent the second half out of his pads and on crutches, with his knee braced. The preliminary diagnosis was a medial collateral ligament sprain; tests will reveal more when swelling subsides.

In the second half, Lazear got dialed in, directing Shepherd on a 69-yard drive on its first possession. He completed four passes in the drive, including a 38-yarder to Ryan Lavin that helped set up an 11-yard scoring strike to Mark Springirth, who was all alone along the back line of the end zone.

"I'm always in game mode," said Lazear, who completed 6 of 11 attempts for 73 yards. "I had to take over and be as vocal as Dan, and that's what I'll try to do the next game."

Lazear did have a pass picked off by Sam Blevins, and the Warriors had the ball at the Shepherd 39, still in the game. Merrimack was helped by two Shepherd penalties, the second a pass interference call that put the ball at the Rams 2.

On first down, Nick Costello and Spiegelberg stuffed J.D. Wild for no gain. On second down, Todd Edmondson stopped Richard Johnson at the 1. On third down, Costello crunched Wild for no gain. Finally, Frank Herrera stuffed Johnson for a 2-yard loss.

"They had a scheme, but they just couldn't run against our front 6 or 7," said Cater.

Dervon Wallace, held in check with seven yards rushing at halftime, had his number called on seven consecutive plays in the second half, the last a 45-yard gallop to the Merrimack 19, setting up a 32-yard field goal by Ricky Schmitt for a 27-7 lead.

With a 45-yard completion, Merrimack moved to the Shepherd 3 before Peters picked off his second pass. On the next play, Wright ran a dive left and 97 yards later celebrated his long touchdown journey.

"It was a simple call in the A-gap," said Lazear. "Anthony Thomas had a great block on the play."

Shepherd finished with 358 total yards, including 254 on the ground - all but 39 coming in the second half. Wright's long run boosted his total to 144 on 14 carries, while Wallace's second-half efforts gave him 102 yards on 12 carries.

Notes:The Rams will meet No. 2-seed Bloomsburg, a 21-20 winner over West Chester, next Saturday in the Northeast final (also the national quarterfinals). The game is expected to be at Shepherd, with the final decision to be announced by the NCAA.

As the top seed, Shepherd's victory would automatically have sealed a home game next weekend, the field conditions could force the NCAA to schedule it for another site. One half of the field is in deplorable condition, even though the Rams were playing at home for the first time since Oct. 28.

"I take nothing away from Shepherd, but for this level of football, it's almost unacceptable for the NCAA to have a game with these conditions," Murphy said.

"It was the same for both teams," Cater said. "(Shepherd) will get done what it needs to do for approval."

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