Rams hand Golden Eagles first loss
Shepherd's defense knocked the University of Charleston out of its element, and subsequently knocked the Golden Eagles out of a share of the top spot in the West Virginia Conference.
UC, which relies heavily on a powerful running game, was limited to 47 rushing yards in a 16-10 loss to Shepherd Saturday afternoon at UC Stadium, where a crowd of 2,655 gathered on a sunny and pleasant first day of autumn.
The loss dropped the Golden Eagles to 3-1 overall and 1-1 in the West Virginia Conference, while Shepherd improved to 3-1, 2-0.
"We played probably one of the best defenses in the country, and it showed," UC coach Pat Kirkland said. "Their front four guys are the best we'll see all year. They played really well and we didn't execute."
UC entered the showdown as the top rushing team in the WVC, averaging 263 yards over its first three games. Jordan Roberts' average of 123.7 yards per game led the conference by a wide margin, but on Saturday he was limited to 20 yards on 12 carries.
"We never got the running game going so that took away our passing game," Kirkland said. "You gotta give them a reason to take all their guys out of the box, and we didn't."
To compound UC's woes, quarterback Maurice Leak, playing on an injured ankle, completed just 13 of his 33 passes for 144 yards, while his backup, John Knox, was 0 for 5 with one game-changing interception.
"He's still hurt," Kirkland said of Leak. "He tried to go but he's not the quarterback he's used to being. He couldn't really plant on his back foot, but I appreciate the effort."
With UC leading 10-0 late in the first half and driving for a potential tack-on score before the break, Shepherd's Keon Robinson stepped in front of a Knox pass near the UC sideline and returned the interception 48 yards for a touchdown with just 31 seconds left before halftime.
"I just broke on it, and it was right there," said Robinson, a 6-foot, 199-pound junior corner. "Our morale got raised, and we came out in the second half and continued playing well."
"We had one bad play in the first half," Kirkland said. "We had a chance to put more points on the board, and that play changed the tide of the game."
Invigorated by the sudden change of events, the Rams started the second half with a nine-play, 75-yard scoring drive, capped by a 6-yard touchdown run by Jihad Rasheed to give Shepherd a 14-10 lead it would not relinquish.
The Rams' defense accounted for the final points, picking up a safety when Knox was penalized for intentional grounding in the end zone with 12:21 left in the fourth quarter.
UC earned its 10-0 lead on a 22-yard field goal by Puma Nuredini, which was set up by Matt Kelly's interception and 24-yard return to the Shepherd 15, and a 27-yard Leak scoring pass to Shaq Williams on a crossing pattern with 9:48 left in the first half. The scoring drive covered 70 yards on eight plays.
Shepherd's Mike Haynes rushed for 104 yards on 24 carries, helping the Rams hold a 303-191 advantage in total yards. UC was also hurt by being flagged for 13 penalties for 113 yards.
The Eagles return to UC Stadium next Saturday to face Fairmont State in a noon kickoff, while Shepherd hosts Concord at the same time.
Reach Nick Scala at 304-348-7947 or email@example.com.