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Rams want to add some richness to their tradition

November 24, 2007|By BOB PARASILITI

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - The Shepherd University football team probably used the holiday to give thanks for what it has.

Pass the turkey and raise your glasses to celebrate the past. The Rams have four straight West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference titles and a slew of all-conference players. They have built a nationally recognized program. They have five trips to the NCAA Division II playoffs, including the last three straight.

Even with all of that, Shepherd still makes a few longing glances toward the University of Indiana's (Pa.) table.

"They have a rich tradition of football. They are no stranger to this," Shepherd coach Monte Cater said. "They have played for championships."

Two, as a matter of fact. But today is the day that Shepherd tries to go to the next level of postseason play when the Rams host IUP at noon at Ram Stadium in the Northeast Region semifinals.

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IUP has made 14 trips into the postseason in the last two decades. The Crimson Hawks have been to the national semifinals six times and played for the title in 1990 and '93, falling short both times.

Indiana has traveled the route the Rams would dearly love to follow. It would take three more wins for Shepherd to head down that road, but it won't matter without the first one.

"We want to win and get to the region final," Cater said. "But right now, this is a great challenge ahead of us. They are a good football team that scores points and makes you work for what you get. We have to have our best game."

Shepherd (9-1) will be coming off a three-week layoff after its 42-7 win over West Virginia State on Nov. 3. That win clinched the WVIAC title and the second seed in the Northeast and a first-round bye.

Meanwhile, the Crimson Hawks (9-2) - who are coached by former Illinois coach Lou Tepper - have played each of the last two weeks. First, IUP lost 41-35 to Bloomsburg to fall to the sixth and final playoff spot. It advanced by knocking off third-seed West Chester 45-35 to move to 16-14 all-time in the playoffs.

Indiana's ability to score almost at will is a major concern for Cater.

The Crimson Hawks have been held to less than 30 points only twice in their nine wins. IUP is averaging 38.9 points per game, while allowing just 21.2.

"They are a multiple offense that is good at running and passing the ball," Cater said. "They probably have scored more in the last couple of games with the pass. They were the only team to win on the road in the first round of the playoffs. They have balance and that is tough to stop."

The guy throwing the ball for the Crimson Hawks is Andrew Krewatch, who has hit on 203-of-342 passes for 2,722 yards and 25 touchdowns while throwing nine interceptions. He threw for 241 yards and two touchdowns against West Chester.

Meanwhile, the running attack is shared by Kareem Dutrieuille (760 yards, eight TDs) and Poohbear McNeal (547 yards, nine TDs).

Shepherd counters with one of the top runners in the country in senior Dervon Wallace, who is one of the semifinalists for the Harlon Hill Trophy, the Division II version of the Heisman. Wallace has rushed for 1,952 yards and 21 TDs this season.

Cater said the Rams put in extra work on the passing game during the three-week layoff. It is led by quarterback Tyler Lazear, who has thrown for 1,240 yards and 11 TDs.

But, without a doubt, Wallace is the Rams' bread-and-butter.

"We will be running with a guy who has had more success, but if they are able to stop him, we have to be able to give them something else," Cater said. "We have to be able to take advantage of what they give us. They give you three different looks. We have to be able to block them and execute."

Shepherd's defense isn't as stingy as it was last year, but has held its own against the competition by allowing 14.3 points per game. That is a quality that has made the Rams a marvel for the 2007 season.

"A lot of people have done a super job to get here because of the number of guys we lost," Cater said. "We don't have Ricky Schmitt or Dan Peters. There is a lot gone. No one thought we would be able to get back here."

The Rams have been fueled by defensive end Mike Spiegelberg, defensive back Leyton Hersh - the Rams' leading tackler - and linebacker Joey Hooks, who has been out with a hamstring injury.

And now that they are back for their third straight shot at the playoffs, one thing is certain.

"The players are pleased to be here," Cater said. "Nobody wants it to end yet."

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