By Josh Smith, Contributing Writer
After a tough battle in Shepherdstown, W.Va., the WLU Toppers lose their fourth game of the season against the third ranked nationally and MEC powerhouse Shepherd Rams, with a score of 51-14.
Hosting the Toppers for their homecoming game, the Rams started incredibly strong. On the second play of the game, wide receiver Ryan Feiss dove for a reception on a 30-yard gain, which propelled the Rams offense down field. The first drive of the game for Shepherd lasted only seven plays, as quarterback Connor Jessop threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to receiver Wanya Allen.
On the Toppers first drive and first play of the game, Brenton Colabella launched a 26-yard pass to Osman Kargbo, and the Topper offense continued to push down the field against the Rams defense. Marching right down the field, Colabella threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Theodore Mayo, tying the game at 7-7. The Toppers answer to the Rams quick touchdown showed they came into the game ready to play.
After a huge 45-yard return on the kickoff, the Rams were forced to punt the ball away on their second drive of the game after a superb defensive effort by the Toppers. But, back-to-back three-and-outs allowed the Rams to quickly retain the ball. The Rams started their drive on their own 20 after a long punt by Topper punter Christian Morris.
The Rams, however, rushed down the field behind running back Patrick Griffin and scored another touchdown by another Rams running back Jabre Lolley. The Rams led the Toppers 14-7 after 15 minutes of play.
Heading into the second quarter, the Rams continued their offensive dominance behind quarterback Jessop, who completed five of six passes on their first drive for 68 yards as receiver DJ Cornish finished the drive with a touchdown.
The Toppers started with the ball half-way through the second quarter, but another three-and-out plagued the offense and resulted in the Toppers’ third punt of the game.
The momentum-driven Rams offense wasted no time on a two-minute drive and scored their fourth touchdown of the game with a 12-yard pass from quarterback Jessop to receiver Jerimiah Williams.
The Toppers had one final chance to score before the half, behind a new Topper quarterback, however, as junior Lukas O’Connor saw his first action of the game. The Topper offense found a new change of pace and found themselves deep in Rams territory with under one minute to play in the half. After a quick timeout, O’Connor darted a 9-yard touchdown pass to receiver Isaiah Robinson, ending the half for the Toppers on a good note. The score read 28-14 at halftime.
The second half began with a possession by the Toppers. O’Connor, who came in for Colabella late in the second quarter, led out the offense. After two plays, however, a tipped ball resulted in a Rams interception deep inside Topper territory. A staunch effort by the Topper defense stopped a Rams’ hopeful touchdown, and they were forced to attempt a 23-yard field goal, which they missed. The Toppers then began with the ball on their own 20.
Another three-and-out forced the Toppers to punt the ball away, giving the ball back to Shepherd on their own 43. After a slow-starting drive which seemed to be favoring the Topper defense, running back Jabre Lolley broke free on a 32-yard run into the Topper red zone, resulting later in a Rams touchdown.
Another effort by the Topper offense was again short-lived as Shepherd intercepted their second pass in three minutes. The first offensive play for the Rams was a trick flea-flicker, which allowed an open Shepherd receiver rack in 55 yards before being stopped. The Rams six-plays, 74-yard drive resulted in another passing touchdown for Connor Jessop as the Rams continued to pull away from WLU with a score of 42-14.
The start of the fourth quarter could not go any worse for the Toppers. A Morris attempted punt resulted in an intentional grounding penalty and a team safety, giving the Rams two more points and the ball. The Rams again wasted no time, and running back Patrick Griffin rushed 19 yards for another Shepherd touchdown, extending their lead to 51-14 with nearly an entire quarter to play.
The Shepherd Rams maintained possession for nearly half of the quarter, until an interception by defensive back Kerrell Johnson gave the Toppers the ball with six minutes left to play on their own four-yard line. The Toppers would be unable to capitalize on the drive, and the final score read 51-14 as the Rams beat the Toppers.
The Toppers play their next game next Saturday at West Family Stadium when they host Glenville State for homecoming. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. and homecoming festivities are occurring in the tailgate area prior to the game. Follow The Trumpet for more game recaps at www.westliberty.edu/thetrumpet.
Final Team Statistics:
WLU – 14, US –51
Passing yards: WLU – 169, US – 328
Rushing yards: WLU – 72, US – 233
First Downs: WLU – 11, US – 28
Penalties: WLU – 6 for 58 yards, US – 7 for 65 yards
T.O.P: WLU – 25:28, US – 31:21
The Trumpet’s Topper of the Game: Running back Jeremiah Ortiz | 21 carries for 91 yards, 3.9 avg., 2 receptions for 41 yards
The Trumpet’s Player of the Game: Shepherd quarterback Connor Jessop | 23-30, 76.7 %, 329 yards, 4 TDs
Photo credit: Megan Sayre