On Saturday, the West Chester University Golden Rams (4-4, 3-2 PSAC East) strolled into Seth Grove Stadium at Shippensburg University playing with the “win or go home” mantra. In order to get into the playoffs and defend their PSAC Eastern Division championship, they had to defeat Shippensburg, Cheyney and Bloomsburg. Unfortunately for the Golden Rams, that dream came to an end Saturday afternoon after falling to the Red Raiders (6-2, 4-1 PSAC East) 24-19.
The weather did not help things for West Chester as numerous passes from senior quarterback Joe Wright could not be handled by receivers throughout the day. Footing for both teams hindered what many thought would be a high scoring matchup between two of the top offenses in the PSAC.
Penalties, which have been a cause for concern for West Chester all season long continued to be the problem on Saturday. Even though the Golden Rams committed 11 penalties for 111 yards, had four turnovers and Wright completed 41 percent of his passes during the game, they still had a shot to win the game at the end.
“The kids hung tough,” head coach Bill Zwaan said. “They fought back and we had a chance to win there at the end.”
With just over four minutes remaining in the game, the West Chester defense forced the Red Raiders to punt the ball away. Junior defensive back Jay Nelson broke through the Shippensburg protection and blocked the punt, which was scooped up and returned 42 yards for a touchdown by Brad Herr to make the score 24-19 Shippensburg.
After not being able to recover the ensuing on-sides kick, the West Chester defense went back to work. On the second play of the possession for Shippensburg, quarterback Chad DiFebbo was hit by senior linebacker Mike Dell and fumbled, which was recovered by fellow senior linebacker Mike Holland.
Wright led his offense back onto the field with a chance to win the game. On the first play, Wright found senior running back Lee Hopkins for 19 yards down to the Shippensburg 26-yard line. After spiking the ball, Wright found redshirt freshman wide receiver Sean Beahan for eight yards to the 18-yard line.
On 3rd-and-2, and with no timeouts remaining, Wright dropped back and was sacked by Red Raiders linebacker Riley Bowen for a loss of 12 yards. With the clock running, Wright was being pressured and was forced to throw the ball to Hopkins who was tackled seven yards shy of the first-down marker.
Shippensburg got on the board first when DiFebbo found junior wide receiver Mike Harris for a 22-yard score with a little over two minutes remaining in the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Wright threw his second of three interceptions as junior cornerback Travis Proctor stepped in front of a pass and returned it 30 yards to put Shippensburg up 14-0.
After a three-and-out by the West Chester offense following a Vic Iturbides interception of DiFebbo, the Red Raiders went back to work. This time they used a brotherly connection. DiFebbo found younger brother Chase Difebbo for 35 yards plus an additional 15 yards on a facemask penalty against West Chester. The Golden Rams defense did a good job of holding the Red Raiders to a field goal to make the score 17-0 at the half.
West Chester finally got on the board in the third quarter when Wright found senior wide receiver Steve Miller for a 12-yard score to make it 17-6 following the missed extra point.
Shippensburg increased their lead following a 75-yard pass and catch when Chad DiFebbo found Chase DiFebbo late in the third quarter.
Early in the fourth quarter, Wright found Miller once again for a 7-yard touchdown to make it 24-12.
West Chester was not able to finish the comeback bid as they fell to the Red Raiders 24-19.
The Golden Rams offense outgained the Red Raiders 306 to 277. West Chester finished with four yards rushing on 21 attempts compared to 77 yards rushing for Shippensburg.
Wright finished 22-54 for 302 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. Miller finished with a game-high 11 receptions for 181 yards and two touchdowns. Beahan had six receptions for 80 yards, playing a majority of the game when Dan DePalma got injured.
Chad DiFebbo finished 10-22 for 200 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Chase DiFebbo finished with four receptions for 137 yards and one touchdown.
Holland finished with eight total tackles and three fumble recoveries. Senior linebacker Sam Scott finished with eight tackles, two sacks and one forced fumble. Corey Rhood finished with six tackles and an interception.
The Golden Rams look to get back on track this Thursday against cross-town rival Cheyney University at 6 p.m. at Farrell Stadium. All the action can be heard live on 91.7 WCUR.
The loss to Shippensburg snapped West Chester’s five-game winning streak against the Red Raiders . West Chester leads the all-time series against the Red Raiders 21-9-1 . Shippensburg’s last win against the Golden Rams at Seth Grove Stadium came in 1999 . In their last two games, West Chester has 20 penalties for 221 yards called against them
LJ Harrell is a fourth-year student majoring in Marketing. He can be reached at LH639694@wcupa.edu.