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Shepherd makes run to Division II regional final

November 26, 2007|By BOB PARASILITI

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Indiana University of Pennsylvania came to Shepherd University on Saturday with its eyes focused on winning the NCAA Division II football tournament.

The Crimson Hawks left with a rundown feeling and a ringing in their ears, courtesy of Shepherd's overpowering ground game.

Backed by a solid run defense, the Rams pounded out a 41-34 victory over IUP in a second-round playoff game before a packed house at Ram Stadium.

With the victory, second-seeded Shepherd advances to its second-straight Northeast Region final, this time at California (Pa.) on Saturday at noon. The Vulcans, the region's top seed, overwhelmed Southern Connecticut, 43-7.

"It was a tough ballgame ... a physical game," Shepherd coach Monte Cater said. "We were able to answer the bell on defense, especially against their passing game."

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Shepherd (10-1) not only answered the bell, it rang it.

Harlon Hill trophy candidate Dervon Wallace ran for 135 yards and two touchdowns in the first half before leaving the game with cramps with 11 minutes left in the third quarter. Shepherd turned the ball over to St. James School graduate Jimmy Sutch, who responded with 117 yards and three touchdowns in his first prolonged outing of the season to help the Rams keep the Crimson Hawks at arm's length.

Meanwhile on defense, Shepherd took IUP's diverse, 3-D game and flattened it as the Rams limited the Crimson Hawks' running game to 72 yards and used directional kicks to take away their special teams' attack.

"We came in expecting to win and to go all the way," said IUP linebacker Terrence Jackson. "It hurts a lot, knowing that it's not going to happen anymore."

Overall, IUP threw for 378 yards and four touchdowns - all on Andrew Krewatch-to-Ken Witter connections - and rolled up more total offense yardage (450-377) and first downs (25-18), but not enough points.

"Today was not a good day for us in all three phases," said IUP coach Lou Tepper. "We moved the ball for yardage, but we had (four) turnovers. We struggled in the run against Shepherd. It speaks highly of their front. We couldn't stop their running game. We had more yardage, but when there is such an imbalance between the pass and rush games, usually the rushing wins out."

The Rams' ground game took over, but it wasn't until after the defense made a couple of stands - spearheaded by some big plays by cornerback Dustin Smith - to keep things even.

IUP took its first drive and pounded down to the Rams 6. On third-and-goal, fullback Garrett Lestochi went up the middle and cut right to the 1, where he was met by Smith and fumbled the ball for Shepherd's Mike Heatwole to recover.

"We knew we didn't have much in field position, but we came out knowing that we had to play our hardest," said Smith, who also intercepted a pass. "We bend, but don't break. On the goal line, I didn't have any responsibilities and I saw the fullback coming at me. I just went for him and tried not to let him into the end zone. I got my helmet and shoulder in there, but I didn't know that I had caused a fumble."

Shepherd then held again after punting out of the end zone and giving IUP control at the 35. The Rams shut down three runs by Poohbear McNeal, setting up a 33-yard field goal attempt that Craig Burgess clanged off the right upright.

Then it was Wallace's turn as he popped the cork off of IUP's defense. He opened with a 10-yard sweep - his fourth carry - around left end where he was tripped up by his blocker. The 5-foot-5 senior followed with a burst through a huge hole over left tackle and jetted 70 yards for the first score and a 7-0 Shepherd lead with 5:10 left in the first quarter.

"In the first couple of series, emotions are high and adrenaline is high," said Wallace, who has rushed for 2,087 yards this season and is nine yards short of surpassing Damien Beane for Shepherd's single-season record. "After that, it comes down to who wants it the most. In our second drive, we made adjustments with the angles we wanted to run and on the third drive, it popped open."

Shepherd moved to a 14-0 lead when Tyler Lazear found Ryan Lavin for a 2-yard touchdown pass. IUP turned to its two-minute offense to get results the rest of the half.

Krewatch hit Witter on an isolation pass, allowing him to beat the only Shepherd defender for a 14-yard scoring play. Burgess missed the extra point and Shepherd led by eight.

The Rams cashed in on a 5-yard drive with Wallace's second score from the 2, set up by a 72-yard kickoff return by Deante Steele, to take a 20-6 lead after the kick failed. IUP countered by rushing down for a quick score, capped by a 5-yard run by Lestochi with 48 seconds remaining for a 20-13 deficit at half.

Indiana took the second-half kickoff and tied the score at 20 on Krewatch's 22-yard strike to Witter.

Then, one carry into the second half, Shepherd had to switch gears. Wallace's cramping legs began to tighten up, sending him to the sidelines. He had one more carry the rest of the game.

The Rams turned to Vincent Riggs for some tough yards and then went to Sutch.

Sutch responded with consecutive scoring runs - 27 yards in the third quarter and 5 to start the fourth - to give the Rams a 34-20 lead with 11:20 remaining.

IUP looked to Witter, who pulled in two circus catches for scores of 59 and 11 yards, but they came around Sutch's 20-yard scoring sweep. Sutch's third score came after Shepherd successfully converted a fourth-and-inches play at its 37 with six minutes remaining to keep the ball out of IUP's hands.

Shepherd recovered an onside kick with 50 seconds remaining to ice the game.

"We knew the kids would play hard and they did." Cater said. "We wanted them to play smart. What was great was so many of them had a hand in this."

It led to IUP forgetting its dreams and facing reality.

"Obviously, the playoffs are hard," Tepper said. "Only one team in the end doesn't end with a loss. Today was our loss."

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