In front of a large and raucous crowd on homecoming at Farrell Stadium, the West Chester University Golden Rams (6-2, 5-0 PSAC East) defeated the Shippensburg University Red Raiders 25-7 for their fifth consecutive victory. With this win, West Chester keeps pace with the Bloomsburg Huskies, two weeks away from their big matchup.”Maybe that’s who we are,” head coach Bill Zwaan said. “A team that has to struggle to get to the wins, but we’re winning.”
For the fourth time in five weeks, the Golden Rams defense held their opponents to 10 points or fewer in a game.
“Our defense has really been stepping up,” sophomore defensive back Dan DePalma said. “They are really coming through. They are playing really good football right now. We just try to get better each week.”
“They’ve been playing great,” Zwaan said. “They did it again. Our defense has just been playing great.”
The first half was an offensive struggle for both teams as neither squad could put points on the board.
“Some games we just come out slow in the first half,” junior quarterback Joe Wright said. “We talked about it in the locker room and we had a great crowd here today and we told ourselves that we could get it done. We came out in the second half and played some great football. Defense stepped up and kept [Shippensburg] off the score board. Offense finally got into rhythm and put some points on the board.”
The Golden Rams received the ball to start the game and went right to work against the Shippensburg defense. Wright hit Darryl Canty for a 26-yard catch and run to convert a third and long.
Five plays later, Wright found senior captain Mike Washington for a 10-yard pass reception. With this catch, Washington set the NCAA record for consecutive games with at least one catch at 45 straight games.
Unfortunately for West Chester, they were not able to put points on the board as Wright threw a couple of incomplete passes as the Golden Rams turned the ball over on downs.
Shippensburg came right out determined to run the ball. The Red Raiders first six offensive plays were runs, resulting in three first downs, and more importantly, time running off the clock, with the West Chester offense on the sidelines.
The defense held strong. On fourth and goal, from the one yard-line, Shippensburg quarterback, Chad DiFebbo was sacked by linebacker Greg Smith and senior captain defensive end Mike Walter to force a turnover on downs by the Red Raiders.
Starting for the third consecutive week for injured star running back D’Andre Webb, Jackson Fagan continued to impress. On the first play on their next offensive possession, Fagan took the handoff off left tackle and ran 20 yards for a first down. Two plays later, Wright showed off his wheels and scampered 15 yards for another West Chester first down.
West Chester made another mistake as the protection broke down and Wright was sacked by Jason Groller and fumbled the football as Andy Horn recovered for the Red Raiders.
Both offenses continued to struggle as the defenses for the Golden Rams and Red Raiders forced back-to-back three and outs.
Shippensburg was the first team to strike in the second quarter. The Red Raiders executed a 16 play, 87-yard drive in eight minutes, 23 seconds.
DiFebbo completed a screen pass to running back Kevin Marshall and ran 58 yards down the field to the West Chester 3-yard line. Fortunately for West Chester, Shippensburg was called for a holding penalty, bringing the ball back 30 yards to the West Chester 33-yard line.
After an offside penalty on nose guard, James Thorpe, a couple plays later DiFebbo completed a pass that was tipped by two players and eventually landed into the hands of receiver Mike Harris from three yards out.
The Golden Rams wasted little time getting on the board. Wright completed a 14-yard pass to redshirt freshman Will Gardner, a 21-yard pass to Washington and an 8-yard pass to fullback Pat McDermott to get inside the red zone. Two plays later, Wright hooked up with Washington from 18 yards out to put West Chester on the board. The touchdown marked Washington’s 53rd of his career.
“It’s hard to keep our offense off the score board,” Wright said. “The two minute drill at the end of the half really got our spirits lifted. That was a big touchdown for us. Mike made a great play.”
“The two minute drill really boosted our confidence,” Zwaan said. “We couldn’t get anything to go and keep drives alive, so that we could do other things.”
One major inconsistency for the Golden Rams this year has been the field goal kicking, and this game was no different. Following the touchdown, Tyler Downes could not control the snap on the extra point and threw an interception that was returned 10 yards.
For the second time in three weeks, West Chester went into the locker room trailing. Shippensburg controlled the ball holding it for nearly 19 minutes, to only 11 minutes for West Chester. The offenses were nearly even with Shippensburg gaining 167 yards of total offense, while West Chester had 165 yards.
The Red Raiders came out in the second half and continued to run the ball. Since the West Chester defense began to key in on the run, Shippensburg went to the air on occasion. DiFebbo hit Harris for a 17-yard gain for a first down.
A couple plays later, DiFebbo found Marshall for 27 yards down the right sideline to set the Red Raiders up inside the West Chester 20-yard line. Kyler Ford was brought in to attempt a 36-yard field goal, but he missed wide left and West Chester was given the ball back with an opportunity to take the lead.
On their first play of the second half, Wright hit Gardner for 46 yards down to the Shippensburg 34-yard line. Three plays later, Wright was sacked by Horn, who forced Wright to fumble for the second time on the afternoon. Michael Apgar recovered the fumble for Shippensburg.
With their back against the wall again, the West Chester defense came out and forced Shippensburg into a three and out.
Starting at the 20-yard line, West Chester went down the field in five plays to score their second touchdown of the game. Wright found a wide open Ryan Paulson down the seam for a 44-yard pass and catch. The extra point by Alex Walsh was good, to give him the school record for PATs in a career.
Following another three and out forced by the defense, Wright found his eighth different receiver of the game as he hit Andrew Taylor for 26 yards to put the offense inside Red Raider territory again. Wright hooked up with Washington again, this time for an 18-yard completion. The Golden Rams weren’t able to get into the end zone but Walsh hit a 22-yard field goal to put West Chester up 16-7.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Shippensburg started moving the ball down the field. Inside the red zone, with under four minutes left on the clock, DiFebbo dropped back and fired a pass out left, right into the hands of DePalma.
For the second time in three weeks, DePalma made an interception to give West Chester the momentum in a game. DePalma returned this interception 96 yards down to the Shippensburg 3-yard line.
“It’s becoming a trend,” DePalma said of his interceptions during homecoming games. “I happen to like it though. I wanted the touchdown so bad.”
“When we saw him on film we said this kid can make some big plays, we got to get him,” Zwaan said about DePalma. “We knew he was a good player, now he’s a playmaker that is what he is. Things happen good when he is on the field. It turned the game around.”
“I thought he was going to go all the way,” Wright said. “The interception was huge for us.”
Washington scored his second touchdown of the game, this time on the ground to push the lead to 23-7.
To finish out the scoring, new Red Raiders quarterback Dave Chervansky kicked a bad snap out
the back of the end zone for a West Chester safety to make it 25-7.
Wright finished 20-32 for 314 yards and two touchdowns. Fagan led all rushers with 51 yards on 14 carries. Washington led all receivers with seven receptions for 85 yards and a touchdown.
Defensively for West Chester, Mike Dell finished with a game-high 15 tackles. The unit held Shippensburg to 283 yards of total offense.
“The whole defense played great,” Wright said.
“Defense really stepped up,” DePalma said. “Made some good plays at the right times and just happened to come through. [Shippensburg] came out ready to play trying to upset us on homecoming. They posed a little bit of a challenge for us.”
Next week, West Chester hosts cross-town rival Cheyney University at 1 p.m. Cheyney enters the game 0-8 and 0-5 in the PSAC East.
“The coaches keep us motivated,” Wright said of effects of facing winless Cheyney before unbeaten Bloomsburg. “We have great leadership here. Our captains are great. We are where we want to be. We have Cheyney, we got to win that. We got to beat Bloomsburg to get to the championship game. If we don’t beat Cheyney, we don’t get in the playoffs, we don’t get in the championship game. We’re motivated to win every game from here out.”
“We play Cheyney every year,” Zwaan said. “The kids understand this week. They know we have to practice, play hard and get better. That’s our goal, to make sure we get better because we’re kind of flattening out right now and we got to get back in the right direction for the following week. They have to approach this week as a focus week for them.”
Mike Dell was named PSAC Eastern Division Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against C.W. Post last week . Alex Walsh became WCU’s all-time leader in PATs . WCU has won five consecutive games against Shippensburg, and holds the series lead at 21-8-1 . WCU is sixth in the latest Super Region One poll . Defensive end Mike Walters leads the PSAC in sacks
LJ Harrell is a third-year student majoring in Business. He can be reached at LH639694@wcupa.edu.