MEC -- Round 1 in the SR1 Playoffs -- Shepherd Survived And Fairmont Faded
by, 11-22-2016 at 11:14 PM (1181 Views)
The Mountain East Conference still has a chance to represent Super Region 1 in the semi-finals as Shepherd defeated Assumption. Fairmont State lost to IUP which may have been anticipated; however the degree to which they lost was a shock to many.
So, what happened ....
The sun was shining and the temperatures were warm as the countdown continued to opening kickoff at Ram Stadium. The Rams are pretty good defenders of their home field, but the Assumption Greyhounds scored 31 points against them; the first time this season any team scored over 27 points against Shepherd. The problem was the Rams wasted hardly any time taking a 14-0 lead which they would never relinquish enroute to a 48-31 victory over the visiting Greyhounds.
In true Ram fashion when winning the coin toss, the team elected to receive the opening kickoff. I’ve always believed in electing to receive the ball after halftime for two reasons, if you’re ahead it gives you a chance to create more separation—and if you’re behind, it gives you a chance to catch back up. How many times have football fans seen a team start a game flat on offense. But I’m not Monte Cater and I don’t turn out championship-quality programs on a recurring basis. And I don’t have CJ Davis, you know, the Hagerstown-native who returned the opening kickoff 89 yards to set the Rams up inside their opponent’s 10 yard line. An eight-yard quarterback keeper by Jeff Ziemba on the first play from scrimmage gave the Rams a 7-0 lead twenty seconds into the game.
Assumption gave the ball back to Shepherd after a quick three-and-out (well four plays since Shepherd accepted a penalty even though the third-down play didn’t achieve a first). Shepherd began their second offensive drive from Assumption’s 47-yard line. Four plays later and Ziemba connected with Billy Brown for a 10-yard touchdown strike. Just over three minutes into the game and Shepherd had a 14-0 lead.
A lesser-quality opponent might have figured today wasn’t their day, but Assumption was a playoff-worthy opponent and they continued to fight. Deonte Harris returned the following kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown to keep the Greyhounds within striking distance. Shepherd was intercepted on its first play of the following series. Assumption took advantage of the opportunity as they wiggled their way down inside Shepherd’s 10-yard line. Although the Greyhounds settled for a field goal, the teams and crowd knew there was a lot of football left to be played.
Assumption tried to build off of the momentum by kicking an onside kick toward their sideline. They had a guy in position—practically uncontested—but the ball just managed to slip between his legs ultimately going out of bounds. Shepherd took over at mid-field, and five plays later had another touchdown to take a 21-10 lead which would stand for the rest of the first quarter.
Both teams would trade touchdowns in the second quarter. Assumption’s quarterback seemed to fool everyone as he scored pretty easily on a 37-yard touchdown run. Billy Brown caught a 7-yard touchdown pass with a Greyhound defender all over him like a puppy excited to see his owner.
Shepherd led at the half, 28-16. At this point the winds picked up, the clouds rolled in and the temperatures dropped. The storyline remained the same in the second half. Assumption continued to fight and score, but Shepherd continued to answer with more points of their own. A couple of blocked PATs, a blocked punt, a failed two-point conversion and numerous sacks later indicated Shepherd would indeed prevail. As the fourth quarter wore on, the fans who remained anxiously awaited the arrival of 00:00 on the game clock; tired of being pelted with sleet. Yes, we went from warm and sunny to cold and sleet in the span of 60 football minutes.
It seemed as though Shepherd was going to dominate early and often, but Assumption kept things close repeatedly throughout the game. The Greyhounds did recover an onside kick later in the game.
While not flashy, Shepherd’s rushing was effective; including three rushing touchdowns spread among three different runners—backs Brandon Hlavach (13-48-1) and Deonte Glover (9-37-1), and quarterback Jeff Ziemba. Despite throwing two interceptions, Ziemba (19-30-317-4-2) had a great day which was a combined effort of his abilities and his receivers’ abilities. Senior wide receiver and NFL prospect Billy Brown (12-193-3) could not be stopped. Assumption’s coach was in awe of Billy Brown. Coach Bob Chesney said they focused on Billy Brown when studying film and providing a game plan for their defense. Regardless of the studying and planning, Billy Brown had a monster day against Assumption’s secondary. Senior wide receiver CJ Davis (4-94-1) added to his kick returning contributions with another big day of his own (212 all-purpose yards). Assumption’s coach conceded that perhaps they spent too much time focusing on Billy Brown during the week—that CJ should have garnered significant attention as well.
It was clear early on that Assumption’s passing attack is built on quick-hit timing patterns that depend on their receiver’s speed and agility to turn a short catch into a big gain. Greyhound’s receiver Deonte Harris’ (7-40-1) speed was evident during his 97-yard kickoff return touchdown as well as a few early catches. But those big games never really materialized over the course of the game. The biggest came on pass to running back Dylan Oxsen (12-48-1; 3-81-1) who bounced off of a defender unscathed and found himself running free from that point forward. The team explained after the game that Shepherd’s pass coverage, “Was better than [they’ve] seen this season.”
Greyhounds quarterback Marc Monks (19-47-187-1-0) was not accustomed to going down in his own backfield throughout the season, but Shepherd managed to sack him six times as five different defenders dragged him down behind the line of scrimmage.
Many who follow Division II football in the area contend the NE-10 is the weakest conference in Super Region 1. Assumption proved they have the talent, the coaching and the fight to compete against the best teams in the Region. Again, the Greyhounds dominated Bowie State last year and came very close to pulling the upset over Slippery Rock—a favorite to win the Region. But there may be a little bit of disparity. Coach Chesney stated it took a little bit of time to adjust to the speed and aggressive style of Shepherd. He added that the Rams had so many, “Favorable matchups throughout the game, [and] there was no weak spot to expose.”
Shepherd will travel to Long Island to face LIU-Post in the second round of the playoffs next Saturday at noon.
Indiana Univ. of PA 62
Fairmont State 13
After receiving the opening kickoff, Fairmont State marched 69 yards down the field in eight plays setting up a first-and-goal at the IUP six-yard line. At this point, the Falcons looked the part of a playoff-caliber team worthy of competing against the Region’s best when the stakes were at the highest.
And then the next play happened. Running back James Oliver fumbled at the five-yard line. The silver lining might be the chance for Fairmont State to win the battle of field position. IUP then argued that one man does not make a huge difference as they went 95 yards on six plays—running back Chris Temple scoring on a 58-yard touchdown reception.
No reason to panic, only down seven points and the offense just proved they could move the ball down field against the Crimson Hawks’ defense. Laurence King’s 39-yard kickoff return to set up the Falcons around mid-field. And then quarterback Cooper Hibbs was intercepted on the first play from scrimmage on their second drive. IUP then covered the 54 yards between them and the end zone in five plays. Backup quarterback Mike Pietropola had two carries for 40 yards including the 9-yard touchdown run on the drive.
Fairmont State finished the first quarter with two three-and-outs, and the Crimson Hawks led 21-0 going into the second quarter. IUP continued to assert itself going forward throughout the game. Fairmont State had six turnovers (four on the ground, two in the air and was a paltry 1-for-11 on 3rd-down conversions. Nearly a half’s worth of possessions (7) resulted in punts for the Falcons, and their defense was on the field for nearly an entire quarter more than IUP’s defense (36:53-23:07).
The Falcons’ defense couldn’t stop IUP’s bread-and-butter. The Crimson Hawks ran for 372 yards on 63 carries (5.9 ypc). Running back Chris Temple (20-147-4) led the charge. Pietropola (10-15-134-1-0; 6-51-1) kept Fairmont State’s defense honest being efficient through the air and capable with his legs. Walt Pegues led the receiving corps (6-83-1).
Cooper Hibbs (21-40-219-2-2) completed just over half of his passes, but his interceptions equaled his touchdown completions. Running back Terrell Charles (9-34-0) was severely limited by IUP’s defense. Laurence King (7-104-2) continued to show he has the ability to be an elite receiver in the conference. He not only led the receivers in receptions, yardage and touchdowns, but also averaged over 20 yards per kick return.
IUP travels to face the California Vulcans, current PSAC champion and Super Region 1’s top seed.
Fairmont State accomplished a great deal this season and they should be excited about the future. Quarterback Cooper Hibbs will move on, but a lot of the Falcons’ playmakers should return next season.