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Goin' to California

Rams head to Pa. for quarterfinals

Rams head to Pa. for quarterfinals

December 01, 2007|By JOE TUSCANO

CALIFORNIA, Pa. - It's not a well-kept secret, but that doesn't really matter. Even if it falls into the hands of nefarious individuals, that doesn't spell doom for California University's football team.

Monte Cater figured it out by watching a week's worth of game film and it wouldn't be a stretch to believe he has spread the information to the football players at Shepherd University.

The Rams' head coach knows exactly what it will take to defeat sixth-ranked California University when the two teams meet today at noon at Adamson Stadium for an NCAA Division II quarterfinal game.

And Cater is willing to share that secret.

"We have to have success running the football," he said. "Defensively, we can't give up big plays and our special teams have to play well."

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Sounds simple, right?

Cater is right. Those ingredients can spell defeat for Cal.

The problem for Shepherd, and the 11 other teams that have played the Vulcans this season, is that accomplishing those objectives is far more difficult than identifying them.

Maybe that's what makes this Cal team so special. The opposing coaches take up the best part of the week devising a game plan and spend the better part of the game watching it fall apart.

"We know we're going to be tested every week," said Cal defensive end Kirby Griffin, a regional finalist for the Harlon Hill Award. "We have to stand up to them every week."

Cal leads Division II in rushing defense (52.6-yard average), total defense (192.7) and scoring defense (7.9). The Vulcans are No. 3 in pass efficiency rating (84.2) and fifth in sacks per game (3.64).

What those numbers mean is that it's hard to move the ball against them. Jerom Freeman, the talented runner from Southern Connecticut State, was held to 63 yards rushing, about 90 below his average. He wasn't the first to be bottled up in that way.

This time, Shepherd's Dervon Wallace - also a finalist for the Harlon Hill Trophy - will try to find running room in the tight spaces past the line of scrimmage. Wallace, a 5-7 senior, has rushed for 2,087 yards this season and has 4,776 for his career.

Wallace left the game with cramps early in the third quarter last week in the Rams' win over Indiana (Pa.). He had 135 yards and two touchdowns when he left.

But St. James School graduate Jimmy Sutch picked up the slack, running for 117 yards and three touchdowns after Wallace's departure.

"Their running game is the best we've seen," said California head coach John Luckhardt. "I want to compare their running game to Slippery Rock's but I think their offensive line is a hair better than Slippery Rock's. They play to their strengths, which is the running game and defense."

Interestingly, that's what the Vulcans do.

Junior tailback Daine Williams needs 139 yards for 1,000 after taking over for the injured Brandon Lombardy four weeks ago. Quarterback Joe Ruggiero is coming off his best game of the season with 24 completions for 242 yards. And split end Nate Forse has been the driving force downfield, catching 49 for 661 yards and nine touchdowns.

Cal's defense and special teams have accounted for seven touchdowns and two safeties. Also, 14 touchdowns from the offense were set up by turnovers. That's why Cal has outscored opponents this season, 420-95.

"For as long as we've been in this," linebacker Gary Butler said, "we've depended on each other."

Cal's linebackers are arguably the most effective group in school history. Butler, Brian Mohr, Josh Zunic and Darren Burns have accounted for a combined 271 tackles, including 46 for losses, 26 quarterback sacks, seven fumble recoveries and seven forced fumbles.

"It's a tremendous defense," Cater said. "Anyone can see that. They can run, tackle well and pressure you. Top to bottom, it's very strong."

If it's strong enough to contain Wallace, and mistakes are kept to a minimum, then the job of trying to figure out how to stop Cal will be left to someone else next week.

"They have the No. 1 running offense and we have the No. 1 defense," Butler said. "This is where we prove ourselves."

Joe Tuscano is a sports writer for the Washington (Pa.) Observer-Reporter. E-mail him at jtuscano@observer-reporter.com, or visit the newspaper's Web site at observer-reporter.com

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