NCAA Division-II Football Playoffs
No. 10 Slippery Rock Rock (12-1)
No. 5 Shepherd Rams (11-0)
How They Got Here:
Slippery Rock was the winners of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference after going 10-1 in the regular season. The Rock defeated West Chester University in the conference title game, dominating from start to finish in a lopsided 61-12 victory. That gave Slippery Rock back-to-back victories where they scored more than 60-points. The Rock have scored at least 34 in every game this year.
In Round 1 of the NCAA Division-II football playoffs, Slippery Rock took on Virginia Union University. The Rock jumped out to a 13-0 lead when Shamar Green scored from two-yards out, and Teven Williams returned an interception 24-yards for the score. Dante Nania later threw for three touchdowns to extend the team’s lead to 33-7, and they held on for the 40-21 victory. Greene finished with 158-yards and 2 TDs on 21-carries and Nania threw for 249-yards and three scores. Cornelius Raye had 151-yards receiving. Marcus Martin led the defense with 12-tackles and two sacks.
In Round 2, Slippery Rock held off a feverish rally from Assumption College to win narrowly 41-39. The Rock scored first, when Greene scored from one-yard out on the team’s first possession. The kick was blocked and returned 98-yards to make the score 6-2. Slippery Rock responded by getting a fumble recovery return for a score by Joe Phillips and a 13-yard pass from Nania to Raye to make it 20-2. A nine-yard touchdown pass to Leroy McClain made the score 41-19 with just 55 seconds left in the third quarter.
Then the game got interesting. James Ward scored from a yard out, 2:36 into the fourth, and Marc Monks found Ashton Grant twice to bring the Greyhounds within two. A two-point conversion failed, but there was still 3:47 left. The Assumption defense held, giving their offense back the ball at their own 44. The first three passes were incomplete, setting up a fourth and 10. Monks looked to pass for the first down, but Titus Howard made a great play to intercept the ball and returned it 42-yards to clinch the victory.
Greene finished with 164-yards on the ground and a score. On defense, Derek Morgan made 12 tackles.
The Shepherd University Rams went 10-0 during the regular season. The offense was incredibly consistent all season long, scoring less than 41-points only once, and that was in a 35-28 victory over Concord. The Rams won their final three games by a combined score of 137-44.
Shepherd had a bye their first week, and welcomed Indiana University of Pennsylvania in Round 2. The Rams opened the scoring on their first possession with a 30-yard Ryan Earls field goal, but then saw IUP respond with 13 unanswered points to take a 10-point lead. It would remain that way until the fourth quarter when Shepherd would respond.
Jabre Lolley’s five-yard run for a touchdown with 12:13 left in the game made it a three-point contest and, with 2:03 left in the game, the Rams took the lead when Jeff Ziembra found Billy Brown for a 28-yard touchdown pass. Indiana had one last chance to retake the lead, but Lenny Williams incomplete pass on fourth and 6 ended the game.
Ziembra finished 14-127 for 175-yards and a touchdown and Brown caught 11 of those passes for 159-yards and the score. Isaiah Ross had 7-tackles, a sack and a blocked kick.
Key Players to Watch:
Shamar Greene is an amazing talent who has rushed for 1,516-yards and 13-touchdowns. His rushing total puts him fifth in Division-II, but his 13 scores amazingly do not lead the team. Julian Durden has scored 19 times on the ground and adds 845-yards of rushing offense.
Nania is a quality quarterback who makes things happen. This is a great rushing team, but the coaches are not afraid to put the ball in their QBs hands to win games. Nania passed for 2,868-yards and 30-touchdowns. He also scored 4 TDs on the ground.
On defense Marcus Martin is an absolute beast. He leads the team with 13-sacks and is third with 82-tackles. Add to it his four fumble recoveries and it is easy to see why the defensive end is such a force.
The Rock have an outstanding set of defensive backs who make plays and always seem to be around the ball. It is no surprise that this team has 23-interceptions, as Titus Howard, Deonte Flemings, and Derrick Fulmore each picked off four.
Jeff Ziembra is big time for the Rams. He completed 63.1 percent of his passes, and threw for 3,017-yards and 27-touchdowns with just three picks. He is accurate and can make plays from the pocket or on the run.
Billy Brown is Ziembra’s primary target, and he is a good one. Brown caught 72-passses for 1,176-yards and 6 TDs. He has great speed and is extremely athletic. More importantly, he is smart in his routes and is aware of what he needs to do to get open.
On defense, Shepherd is led by Shaniel Jenkins. The senior defensive end leads the team with 10.5-sacks and has 18.5 tackles for loss.
Outlook: A matchup of the No. 1 and No. 2 teams is always a great one. This has the makings of a classic battle and will likely come down to the wire. Look for Greene to be the difference in this contest. Take Slippery Rock in a tight affair, 24-21.
Featured Image Courtesy of CBS Sports
By Robert Pannier