Pictured is fourth-year defensive back Jarey Elder looking to intercept a pass against Bloomsburg, as first-year d-back Izaiah McPherson looks on. Photo courtesy of www.wcupagoldenrams.com.
At John A. Farrell stadium, it was a PSAC East rivalry battle for the Golden Rams as they squared up against the Bloomsburg Huskies. Despite the 1-4 record by the Huskies, this was no doubt the biggest test the Rams have faced yet.
The two teams started off stingy on defense. Both the Huskies and Rams refused to give up a touchdown in the first quarter. Despite the Ed Reed-like playmaking by senior Jarey Elder on a diving interception, the Rams could not seem to keep the Huskies out for much longer. Bloomsburg struck first on a 12-yard quarterback run into the endzone, which put the Huskies on the board 7-0 midway into the second quarter.
With the Huskies applying pressure on the scoreboard and the Rams struggling to find an answer on offense, Coach Bill Zwaan decided to reach into his bag of tricks. What he pulled out was something most opposing coaches would not be prepared for — a new quarterback. Zwaan handed the keys over to the sophomore Mike Piperno. With the offensive being run by a new guy under center, the Rams’ offensive philosophy was simple: get the ball out quick and establish the run game. And they did just that, with combined rushes by Piperno and sophomore running back Ja’Den McKenzie. With the running game rolling and the offensive line dominating, the Rams were finally in the red zone. Finally, Piperno found junior wide receiver Eli Hall in the middle of the endzone for a West Chester touchdown. This was Hall’s first touchdown on the season and came at the perfect time, putting the Rams down by one 7-6.
With the formula figured out on offense, it was up to the defense to keep the Huskies out of the endzone before halftime. Any chances of the Huskies getting into field goal range was shut down in a heartbeat. On the last drive for Bloomsburg, sophomore safety Cole Zapf flashed into the endzone and slammed the quarterback down for a much needed West Chester sack that kept the score at 7-6 Bloomsburg at halftime.
In the second half, a sack by graduate defensive end and defensive leader Ch’iam Smith resulted in a quick three-and-out for the Huskies offense. On offense offensive coordinator Bill Zwann Jr. opened up the playbook for Piperno. After a fumbled jet sweep by freshman wide receiver Seth Degree, Piperno decided to send Degree vertical instead. He found Degree flying down the middle of the field behind two huskies defenders for an 80-yard touchdown pass. Piperno was coming into his own and he put the Rams up 13-7 early in the second half. After a field goal by Bloomsburg, Piperno and the offense were back on the field. With a one-possession lead and the pressure on offense, Piperno was cool, calm and collected. The sophomore quarterback got the offense off the field quickly with 40-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dan Neuhaus and completed the hat trick with three passing touchdowns on the day.
Bloomsburg quickly fought back in the final quarter. The Huskies marched down the field and capped the drive off with an eight-yard touchdown run to bring them within a field goal of tying this game up. A late interception by Piperno gave momentum to Bloomsburg in the closing minutes of the game. However, the defense showed no signs of letting up, even with their backs to the wall. The Huskies decided to go for it on fourth and six at midfield and a tackle by Ch’iam Smith kept the Huskies one yard short of converting.
One possession later, the game came down to just one more defensive stop. It seemed as if the Huskies may have been able to get in field goal range after a pass interference call on senior cornerback James Bell. But just when it looked like the defense was down for the count, they fought back. On the final play of the game, redshirt freshman linebacker Jackson Taylor bulldozed his way into the back field and caused a sack fumble and coincidentally James Bell was right there to recover the fumble and secure the victory.
The Rams were heavily tested and showed they were not afraid of adversity. Piperno finished with 228 passing yards and three touchdowns. Ja’Den McKenzie was also a catalyst on offensive rushing 19 times for 94 yards. Defensive end Ch’iam Smith looked like the player of the game; he finished with five tackles, two-and-a-half sacks and three tackles for losses.
For next week’s matchup, the Golden Rams will travel to Sherpardstown, West Virginia to face Shepard — the newest addition to the PSAC. These two teams have history, facing each other in the NCAA playoffs. It will be another test for West Chester.
Juche Jackson is a fourth-year student majoring in communications. JJ844004@wcupa.edu