The No. 20 West Chester University Golden Rams (1-0) opened up their 88th season of gridiron play with a resounding 43-0 victory over the Lock Haven University Bald Eagles on Thursday night at Hubert Jack Stadium. The defense sent out a message that they are looking to be the best defense in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference a year after finishing in the middle of the pack.The shutout marked the first road shutout for West Chester since Sept. 2006 against Shippensburg (24-0), a span of 18 road games. The last West Chester shutout was a 21-0 defeat of Kutztown in Oct. of 2007 at home.
“I am very happy in how everybody played,” junior defensive end Travis Ford-Bey said. “We all did our assignments like we were supposed to do. We played a real good defensive game. Hopefully that will continue for the rest of the year, but that was a great start for our defensive squad.”
The Golden Rams defense was the story on this evening as they yielded a total of 52 yards to the Bald Eagles offense, seven yards in the second half. The West Chester offense, on the other hand, compiled 460 yards of total offense in the victory.
A year after the West Chester offense put up 21 points and over 250 yards in the first quarter against Lock Haven, the Golden Rams offense sputtered early on as they could not sustain drives because of penalties that hurt them throughout the first half. West Chester finished with 11 penalties for a total of 122 yards.
“The penalties were so ridiculous,” head coach Bill Zwaan, entering his seventh season as West Chester’s coach, said. “We couldn’t get anything sustained. We’re going to clean all that up. I am a little disappointed in our overall approach. We did some bad things tonight that we won’t do again.”
The offensive line for West Chester, which gave up a total of 12 sacks all of last season, did not give up a sack against Lock Haven but got called for a number of penalties that negated a couple of big plays.
“We started off slow, had some mental mistakes, a few penalties that pushed us backwards,” senior quarterback and offensive captain Joe Wright said. “Yet again we got everything situated and came out put some points on the board. It’s a good first victory but we got a lot of stuff we have to work on for next week.”
West Chester’s first points of the season came on a snap over the head of Lock Haven punter Paul Causey that went through the end zone.
Led by reigning PSAC Eastern Division Defensive Player of the Year and senior defensive captain Mike Dell, the defense shut down anything and everything that the Bald Eagles offense threw at them. Senior outside linebacker Mike Holland, a transfer from Villanova University, also showed his ability to make plays all over the field as he tied Dell for the team lead in tackles with nine.
“Our linebackers were awesome,” Wright said. “They are phenomenal. They are so fast and quick and they are ferocious too. They don’t care who they are going against, they are going to come at you 110 percent and hit you right in the mouth. That is awesome. I am really excited to watch this defense play.”
“We just wanted to keep doing our thing,” Ford-Bey said. “We knew that the offense was going to come out and put up some points. We did the best of our ability to keep Lock Haven off the scoreboard.”
To start the second quarter, the Golden Rams offense finally scored a touchdown as Wright bootlegged to the right and threw across the field to wide receiver Dan DePalma for a 12-yard score, his first offensive touchdown. DePalma, starting for injured wide receiver Steve Miller (sprained ankle), made the switch from defense to offense during the offseason.
Later in the second quarter, the Golden Rams incorporated red-shirt freshman fullback Matt McLaughlin into their offense. Following a 25-yard pass from Wright to DePalma, McLaughlin rumbled and stumbled his way through Lock Haven defenders for a 26-yard gain. McLaughlin ended the drive seven plays later steaming ahead for a three yard touchdown run, the first of his career, to give the Golden Rams a 16-0 halftime lead.
Midway through the third quarter, the offense showed their quick strike ability. Sophomore running back Jackson Fagan, who finished with 979 yards rushing last season, took the handoff from Wright, made a cut and sprinted his way down the right sideline for a 61-yard touchdown on his only carry of the game.
“We made some adjustments offensively which we had to do,” Zwaan said. “[Lock Haven] did a couple things differently in the first half so we had to make some adjustments and that worked.”
After the Lock Haven offense could not solve the West Chester defense, senior linebacker Sam Scott partially blocked a punt by Causey, giving the Golden Rams great field position. Following a 34-yard pass completion to sophomore receiver Will Gardner from Wright, DePalma scored his second touchdown of the game, rushing into the end zone from five yards out.
Three plays into Lock Haven’s next offensive series, the defense struck the final nail in the Bald Eagle’s coffin. Jarryd Burkett, the second quarterback to play for Lock Haven in the game, threw a pass that was intercepted by junior defensive back Cordero Newkirk and returned 61 yards for a touchdown, to extend the West Chester lead to 36-0.
“We knew he was going to be a good player,” Zwaan said of Newkirk, a transfer from Lackawanna College. “Just like we do with every transfer, they got to work their way up and work their way up. And he worked his way up at the end of this last week. He’s got good talent.”
Sophomore fullback Brian McDermott scored from 24 yards out to finish off the scoring.
Wright finished 13-19 for 186 yards and one touchdown. Junior running back D’Andre Webb led all rushers with 77 yards. West Chester rushed for a total of 261 yards. DePalma led all receivers with 50 yards on three receptions. First team All-American tight end Ryan Paulson had three receptions for 36 yards.
Dell finished with a game-high two sacks. Ford-Bey (1.5), Holland (0.5), James Thorpe (0.5) and John O’Donnell (0.5) also recorded sacks.
West Chester travels to the University of Delaware to battle the Blue Hens in their home opener on Friday, Sept. 4 at 7:00 p.m. The game can be heard live on 91.7 WCUR, www.wcur.fm or www.redzonemedia.com.
“Going home and playing in front of that crowd is going to be great,” Wright, a native of Wilmington, Del., said. “Playing against [Delaware] gets us ready because they are the best team we will play all year.”
“It will be Delaware’s first game so I am hoping that some of our first game mistakes, Delaware will make next week,” Zwaan said. “Having a game under our belt helps us in the second game. It will be a much more physical game. I know our kids really like playing Delaware so I don’t think it will be too much of a problem getting them ready to go.”
West Chester is now 19-6-1 all-time against Lock Haven . This was the fourth time in the last 49 years that the teams have met . New punter Chris Hill averaged 44 yards per punt . Hill booted a 58 yarder in the first quarter . Joe Wright has thrown a touchdown in 13 consecutive games, four games behind Bill Zwaan Jr.’s school record of 17 straight from 2006 to 2007
LJ Harrell is a fourth-year student majoring in Business. He can be reached at LH639694@wcupa.edu.