Raymond Franze

Shepherd @ California (PA) - Conference Champs Fight to rule Super Region 1

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#3 Shepherd Rams @ #1 California Vulcans

Adamson Stadium – California, PA
1:00 p.m.

Weather Forecast:

SAT [IMG]file:///C:/Users/User/AppData/Local/Temp/msohtmlclip1/01/clip_image001.gif[/IMG]
Cloudy 43° 32° 10% W 9 mph 64%

Audio/Video Broadcasts:

Audio: Talk Radio WRNR 106.5, 740 http://www.talkradiowrnr.com/ -or- WCAL Live, http://sai.calu.edu/wcal/live.php

Video: California University feed, http://calvulcans.com/watch/?Live=49

The highly anticipated championship to send Super Region 1’s representative to the semi-finals is finally upon us. Always subject to debate, the overall consensus seems to be the matchup between Shepherd University and California University of PA showcases the top two football programs in the region. Both teams enter the game undefeated and champions of their respective conferences. Both the PSAC and MEC had two teams at the beginning of the playoffs, but the Vulcans and the Rams are the lone representatives of their respective conferences going forward.

Neither team is a stranger to playing football this late in the season. Shepherd represented Super Region 1 last year during their run to the national championship game in Kansas City. This is the Rams fourth appearance in a quarterfinal round. In 2010, Shepherd defeated Mercyhurst to represent Super Region 1 in the semi-finals against Delta State University. In 2013, Shepherd lost at home to West Chester University, and last season the Rams defeated Slippery Rock University in Shepherdstown before hosting Grand Valley State in the semi-finals.

California University advanced to the quarterfinals during a three-year stretch between 2007 and 2009. The Vulcans were 3-0 in those games. The first win came against Shepherd, the second against fellow-PSAC member Bloomsburg, and lastly against another MEC opponent—the West Liberty State Hilltoppers.

Cal. U will host the game since they were awarded the top seed in the region. Because of their seeding, the Vulcans enjoyed a bye during the opening round of the playoffs—awaiting the winner of the IUP @ Fairmont State game. After dominating Fairmont State, IUP found themselves leading 17-0 on the road last week at California. The Vulcans eventually found their groove as they went on to outscore IUP 44-6 enroute to a 44-23 victory over the Crimson Hawks.

Shepherd hosted Assumption College in the first round of the playoffs. A 48-30 win over the Greyhounds sent the Rams to play Northeast-10 conference champion Long-Island University-Post in Brookville, NY last week. The Rams had an answer for every challenge the Pioneers presented as they completed a sweep of the NE-10’s two playoff representatives with a 40-21 win on Long Island.

National Rankings:

Shepherd Rams California Vulcans
Stat Rank Stat Rank

Scoring Offense 40.6 15th 51.4 1st
Scoring Defense 17.7 13th 14.5 4th

Rushing Offense 141.4 T103 184.9 47th
Rushing Defense 89.5 8th 92..4 11th

Passing Offense 339.0 6th 273.6 41st
Passing Defense 202.9 56th 174.0 17th
Passing Efficiency 185.09 1st 171.25 7th
Passing Eff. – Def 104.46 16th 91.44 2nd

Total Offense 480.4 18th 458.5 27th
Total Defense 292.4 9th 266.4 4th

3rd Down Conv. Off .507 7th .476 20th
3rd Down Conv. De .321 T29 .319 27th
First Downs Off 273 T20 257 T36
First Downs Def 212 T71 173 T14

Red Zone Offense .803 68 .937 3rd
Red Zone Defense .714 T38 .679 23

Sacks 47 4th 40 T10
Sacks Allowed 35 140th 21 T66
Tackles for Loss 107 T3 93 T19

Time of Possession 30:54 52nd 32:16 23rd
Turnover Margin +5 T40 +9 T21
Penalties 132-1365 170th 117-1054 168th

Kickoff Returns 21.95 50th 24.10 16th
Net Punting 39.41 2nd 30.61 141st

Source: ncaa.org

Offensive Players to Watch:

Name School Completions – Attempts - Yardage Percentage Touchdowns - INTs
Jeff Ziemba SU 226 – 331 – 3,315 68.28% 28 – 5
Michael Keir CU 212 – 323 – 2,953 65.6% 39 – 11
Running Backs
Name School Carries – Yardage YPG YPC TDs
Brandon Hlavach SU 167 – 963 80.25 5.8 14
Deonte Glover SU 114 – 550 45.83 4.8 5
Nick Grissom CU 176 – 967 87.9 5.5 9
Jalen Bell CU 70 – 335 33.5 4.8 4
Wide Receivers
Name School Receptions - Yardage YPC TDs
Billy Brown SU 88 – 1,391 15.81 20
CJ Davis SU 64 – 1,181 18.45 8
Ryan Feiss SU 53 – 722 13.62 1
Garry Brown CU 81 – 1,348 16.6 20
Tom Greene CU 47 – 637 13.6 6
Luke Smorey CU 32 – 414 12.9 6

Reason(s) to Not Look Forward to This Game:

This game has the potential to be the longest game in college football history. I don’t mean the similarities between these two teams could send us into twenty rounds of overtime. If each team is true to their identity, the officials’ arms may fall off from throwing so many penalty flags over the course of the game. Shepherd is dead last in the nation (170/170) in both number of accepted penalties and penalty yards. The Vulcans aren’t much better, 168th in accepted penalties and 165th in penalty yards. If both defenses dominate the game, the refs could spend more time moving the ball than either offense.

Reasons to Look Forward to This Game:

Travel time round-trip from Shepherd’s campus to Adamson Stadium is roughly equivalent to a one-way trip to LIU-Post’s campus. And it’s easier to avoid the tolls.

Shepherd ranks in the Top 10 nationally for Rushing Defense, Passing Offense, Passing Efficiency, Total Defense, 3rd Down Conversions, Sacks, Tackles-for-Loss and Net Punting

California ranks in the Top 10 nationally for Scoring Offense, Scoring Defense, Passing Efficiency, Passing Efficiency—Defense, Total Defense, Red Zone Offense, and Sacks.

If I stretched it out to within the Top 20, there are twelve more items that would be listed. Simply put, both of these teams are very good on offense and defense.

Keys to the Game:

Shepherd’s rushing statistics aren’t overly impressive when compared nationwide, but they can’t be taken at face value. The Rams lost two veteran running backs during the offseason. The team started two freshman running backs behind an offensive line that struggled to stay healthy throughout the season. The unit has picked the perfect time to gel allowing the running game to get going. The offensive line paved the way for freshman Brandon Hlavach (21-177-1) to have a career day last week against LIU-Post. California’s Nick Grissom has similar numbers to Hlavach. The team that can best assert itself on the ground will take pressure off of the passing attack and leave defenses guessing and struggling.

“What Can Brown Do For You?” Each team has its own receiver with the last name Brown who racks up the yardage and catches touchdowns. Their individual statistics are listed above, but Shepherd’s Billy Brown and Cal’s Garry Brown combined for 169 receptions, 2,529 yards and 40 touchdowns. Shepherd’s fight for Kansas City really took off on the late 4th-quarter touchdown pass to Billy Brown against IUP. They are integral to their team’s success and the outcome of this game may come down to which secondary did a better job limiting the other’s Brown.

The Rams have a slight advantage on additional weapons in the passing game. Shepherd distributed passes to 12 different receivers; seven of them having 10 or more catches. The Vulcans only have five players with 10 or more catches. Shutting down Garry Brown and Billy Brown will be a focal point for each defense. CJ Davis has more receiving yards than California’s next two receivers combined. And then there’s Ryan Feiss who also has over 700 yards receiving.

Shepherd involves Brandon Hlavach and Deonte Glover (20-236-2) in the passing game more than California seems to involve Nick Grissom and Jalen Bell (11-84-1). Offenses will have to find ways to back off the sack-happy defenses and involving running backs in the passing game may prove to be a key strategy.

Both teams averaged 40+ points scored through this point in the season. Both teams will be facing the toughest defenses either offense has seen all year. Points may be at a premium. Moving the ball downfield may be a struggle. A two-score lead may be a death sentence for the other team.

Because of the relatively even nature of these two teams, it is important to limit the mistakes. Turnovers and penalties are the problems that will help give an opponent opportunities to create separation on the scoreboard.

Last week I said the key to Shepherd defeating LIU-Post was tackling. Tackling would keep the game manageable by limiting the gains that set up field position and scoring plays. The same rings true in this game for both teams. The defenses must make the tackles to limit plays from becoming big gains that set up field position and scoring plays…..

But the ultimate key to this game for both teams is Execution of the defensive game plan. Both teams limit opponents to under 100 rushing yards per game, both rank in the top 10 in Sacks, and both are within the top 20 in Tackles-For-Loss. Both defenses intend to stop the run, forcing the pass, during which pressure on the quarterback limits an effective passing attack. The defense that does a better job executing that game plan is going to win the game for their school.

The Result:

I am beating a dead horse by stating that this game is as close a matchup as we could find in Super Region 1 between two amazing programs. I have always told myself as I have said publicly, I would pick against Shepherd if/when I thought they were probably going to lose. I watched a good bit of the PSAC Championship game between Kutztown and California. I have seen the Vulcans in action during other games that were available online. California impressed me each time I saw them play.

Shepherd struggled to run the ball, struggled to pass protect, turned the ball over and of course draw a national-best number of penalties. On numerous occasions I knew this would be the first game I predicted Shepherd to lose. But then something happened—something I hoped to see during the regular season, particularly toward the end of the regular season—the Rams started putting it all together. I was worried they might slip up during the regular season because of things I saw, but they fought their way to another undefeated season and seem to have elevated their performance to that next level required to continue winning in the playoffs. Because of this new level of passion, inspiration, aggression and execution I have seen from the Rams over the last two weeks, I believe they have at least one more win in them and a good chance to reach Kansas City again.

Shepherd 32, California 29

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Updated 12-01-2016 at 07:34 AM by Raymond Franze