CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Monte Cater knows to take preseason polls with a grain of salt. The ranking of Shippensburg at No. 7 may or may not be an example.
This much is known, however: The Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference team has the reigning Harlon Hill Trophy winner (Division II player of the year) in quarterback Zach Zulli, a better-than-average defense and an 11-1 record in 2012.
And Shepherd blasted that team out of Ram Stadium last week, 33-0. That was easily the most eye-opening result of the infant Mountain East Conference's first week.
"We didn't have anything close to a 240-, 250-yard rushing game last year," said Cater, in his 27th year as Shepherd's coach. "And we wanted to get some pressure with the front four. We didn't have to blitz.
"They had six turnovers - I hope we helped cause a couple or so. We had four sacks, 18 quarterback hits."
In anchoring the Rams' dominating defensive effort, freshman linebacker Octavius Thomas was named the MEC's first defensive player of the week. He had seven tackles, 1.5 for loss and one fumble recovery as the Rams held the Raiders to 217 total yards - and forced Zulli into a 13-for-27 afternoon, with two interceptions. Leading Shepherd's unexpected 243-yard rushing attack was sophomore Allen Cross with 106 yards and true freshman Jabre Lolley with 95.
"It was a great win for our program," said Cater, who brings his team to Fairmont State this week. "If it's a legitimate seventh-ranked team, that's tremendous. But we'll take that with a grain of salt."
Closer to home, University of Charleston coach Pat Kirkland is battling practice-time storms and the memory of a 44-14 loss to Shaw (Raleigh, N.C.) last weekend. A journey to Division I FCS Southern Illinois this weekend doesn't make things easier.
UC is not heading to Carbondale to get a paycheck, though that will happen. The Golden Eagles found themselves without a game with few options, and SIU needed a game on this particular weekend.
Here's how that happened, in condensed form: The new Mountain East's initial football first-year scheduling was going to be challenging anyway, and the plan of a 10-game conference schedule wasn't going to happen right away. Some teams, such as West Virginia State, do have all 10 MEC opponents, but UC has nine.
"In the initial season of the Mountain East Conference, the majority of our institutions had contracts in place for the Week 1 of 2013 that would have been difficult and/or expensive to terminate," said MEC commissioner Reid Amos. "As such, the MEC has a nine-game slate in 2013 and a 10-game slate in 2014."