February 5, 2023

Shepherd University’s Ram Kyle Smith creates a solo sack against Slippery Rock’s Noah Grover at Ram Stadium on Saturday. David Penock

SHEPHERDSTOWN — Despite injuries that overwhelmed the late-season roster, the Shepherd University football team successfully went shoulder-to-shoulder with the equally motivated Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania last Saturday at fan-packed Ram Stadium. . . and defeated the nationally known visitors, 37-27, to advance through the playoffs to the Super Region One championship game on the road against Indiana (Pa.).

Shepherd has earned the nickname “The Thin Blue Line” as injuries mounted and players who were starters missed games.

Nearly a handful of players saw first significant game action as substitutes for missing Marlon Cook (wide receiver), Max Fisher (wide receiver) and Soloman Alexander (defensive end).

The almost classic offensive duel was characterized by long and extensive offensive attacks by both teams.

Shepherd had a total of 594 yards of offense while Slippery Rock finished with 460 yards of offense.

Shepherd University Ram Ronnie Brown takes the air to avoid a tackle as part of his 205-yard rushing in Saturday’s home game. David Penock

Shepherd’s four drives with touchdown scores were 69, 72, 75, and 78 yards. And his three field goals from Jacob Haynie came after marches of 68, 81, and 82 yards.

Slippery Rock had scoring marches of 62, 80, 85, and 62 yards but lost two fumbles in the so-called red zone and had a late pass that was intercepted in the Ram end zone, eventually sealing his lost fate.

The sturdy Rams, now 12-1 overall, will be in Indiana (now 10-1) by 1 p.m. tomorrow after the Crimson Hawks stopped Ashland in the other Super Region One semifinal game.

Slippery Rock touted a defensive statistic that in his successful season had not allowed a runner to gain 100 yards in a game and saw Ronnie Brown run 205 yards on 20 carries. Brown was able to score twice — once in a 43-yard gallop and the other on a 21-yard pass reception from Tyson Bagent, who completed 28 of his 45 passes for 372 yards.

Another helpful factor in the Rams’ steady offensive afternoon was their ability to never concede a sack or let a run end in lost yardage. Slippery Rock had never played a game that they couldn’t show either a sack or a runner for lost mileage.

Shepherd University Ram Jacob Haynie starts Saturday’s NCAA quarterfinal game against Slippery Rock. David Penock

It had been a back and forth in the first half when Haynie ended with a short field goal to make it 20-20.

Bagent’s projected run to points from one gave the Rams a 27-20 lead midway through the third period.

Bagent’s flight from unsuccessful pursuers was crucial to Shepherd’s long march to another key field goal from Haynie that increased Shepherd’s lead to 30-20.

Now in the final quarter, Slippery Rock almost traveled the length of the artificial turf at Ram Stadium to go 30-27 in a short run while the tension stayed on steroids with 7:09 on the scoreboard.

The Rams, keenly defending their three-point lead, used first-down thrusts to get back at goal from the ever-effective Brown.

Perhaps the most important play of the game was the wait.

Fourth and eighth from the Slippery Rock 24, Bagent completed Rodney Dorsey with a first down clutch throw on 10.

A holding penalty pushed the Rams back, but Bagent turned it on and threw almost the width of the field to EJ Morgan at the intersection of the touchline and goal line. And Shepherd had less than two minutes to play, a 37-27 lead.

Once again, Slippery Rock strode down quickly and advanced to the Shepherd Nine.

Shepherd sprinkled the field with defenders, stopping the drive and giving the throaty crowd of 5,000+ a chance for one last and final hooray when Devon Lynch touched Noah Grover’s throw in the end zone and redirected it into Terrell Lindsey’s interception arms.

The Thin Blue Line had prevailed in a game worthy of determined play from both teams.

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