Three unanswered touchdowns in the fourth quarter doomed the Golden Rams on Homecoming as No. 13 Shippensburg defeated West Chester 42-24 Saturday afternoon at Farrell Stadium.
Undefeated Shippensburg (8-0) came into Saturday’s contest sporting the nation’s top-ranked offense, and while West Chester (5-3) did slow them down, it was not enough, as they were unable to pull out the victory. The Golden Rams jumped out to a quick lead and took that lead with them into the locker room, but the second half was a completely different story as Shippensburg looked like the superior team on both sides of the ball.
West Chester wasted no time coming out of the gate as they scored on each of their first three possessions to take a commanding 21-0 lead in the first half. On the first possession, it was running back Rondell White who capped off a 65-yard drive with a 17-yard scamper for six with kicker Shawn Leo’s extra point making it 7-0. After a Raiders punt, wide receiver Tom Shrader made going 80 yards seem easy as he took a Mike Mattei pass 77 yards to the house with 7:42 remaining in the first quarter. Receiver Jim Kelly kept things moving in the home team’s favor as he took Mattei’s pass for 42 yards in the first minute of the second quarter as the Rams took what seemed like a very controlling 21-0 lead.
While Shippensburg did come out a little slow, they reminded everyone that their undefeated record and top-ranked offense was no fluke as they rattled off three straight touchdowns of their own to tie it up at 21. Three passes from quarterback Zach Zulli, who entered the game as Division II’s second-ranked passer, did the trick for the Raiders. Two of the three passes were to receiver Trevor Harman who would wind up with a total of four touchdowns on the day.
Leo kept the Golden Rams in front at the halfway mark, drilling a 40-yard field goal as time expired in the first half to make the score 24-21 West Chester. Unfortunately, that would be it for the West Chester offense on this day in front of a raucous home crowd, as the Raiders would prove to be just too much for the Rams.
The third quarter proved to be the defenses quarter as neither team successfully got anything going on the offensive end. Just when it seemed the Rams’ offense was putting something together, the Raiders intercepted Mattei’s pass and returned it 77 yards to the West Chester 15-yard line, swinging all the momentum in Shippensburg’s favor. The defense would hold though as they forced the Raiders into a field goal attempt from inside the five, which was ultimately blocked by senior defensive back Bob Sabol. All six possessions failed to record any points as the Rams continued to lead heading into the fourth.
The fourth and final quarter would belong solely to the number 13th ranked team in the nation. All three of their possessions in the fourth quarter resulted in trips to the endzone, with the final one being the icing on the cake with only 45 seconds remaining, making the final score 42-24. The first two touchdowns of the quarter consisted of drives lasting less than two minutes in time but going more than 60 yards.
For the majority of the first three quarters, the Golden Rams out-played the undefeated Raiders, but too many costly penalties and turnovers prevented them from fulfilling their upset bid. West Chester committed 10 penalties in the 60 minutes accumulating 117 penalty yards, while turning the ball over four times, two interceptions, and two fumbles, to Shippensburg’s one, the blocked field goal.
White carried the load on the ground for the Golden Rams as they out-gained the Raiders 148-135 on the ground. White finished the day with 24 carries for 119 yards and a score. With Saturday’s performance, White has gained exactly 1,000 yards rushing on the year with three games still remaining in the 2012 campaign.
Mattei put together a decent performance in the air on Saturday. He went 18-for-28 for 275 yards and two touchdowns, but his two interceptions really cost the Rams. He was also sacked three times and harassed by Shippensburg’s physical defensive line for all 60 minutes. Zulli finished the day with 342 yards passing and five touchdowns for the Red Raiders.
On the receiving side of things, Harman really killed the Rams, as four of his five touches went for six points. Kelly led the Rams’ receiving corps as he caught seven balls for 113 yards and the one touchdown. Kelly now has a team-high 555 receiving yards on the year.
On the defensive side of the ball, it was the two linebackers who led the way for West Chester. Ronell Williams continued his outstanding play this season as he notched a game-high 18 tackles. Fellow linebacker Mike Culbreath recorded 14 tackles of his own with one of those being a tackle for a loss.
This Saturday will be West Chester’s third straight home tilt, as well as their final one in 2012 as they host county-rival Cheyney (1-7). Prior to the 12 o’clock kickoff, the seniors of the football team, cheerleading squad, and marching band will all be honored for their commitment to the university. The Golden Rams, who held their own fate prior to Saturday’s loss to Ship, now need a lot of help in order to make it to the PSAC Championship Game on Nov. 10.
Riley Wallace is a fourth-year student majoring in communication studies with a journalism minor. He can be reached at RW718681@wcupa.edu.