MEC notebook: Shepherd sharp in opening rout
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Monte Cater knows to take preseason polls with a grain of salt. The ranking of Shippensburg at No. 7 may or may not be an example.
This much is known, however: The Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference team has the reigning Harlon Hill Trophy winner (Division II player of the year) in quarterback Zach Zulli, a better-than-average defense and an 11-1 record in 2012.
And Shepherd blasted that team out of Ram Stadium last week, 33-0. That was easily the most eye-opening result of the infant Mountain East Conference's first week.
"We didn't have anything close to a 240-, 250-yard rushing game last year," said Cater, in his 27th year as Shepherd's coach. "And we wanted to get some pressure with the front four. We didn't have to blitz.
"They had six turnovers - I hope we helped cause a couple or so. We had four sacks, 18 quarterback hits."
In anchoring the Rams' dominating defensive effort, freshman linebacker Octavius Thomas was named the MEC's first defensive player of the week. He had seven tackles, 1.5 for loss and one fumble recovery as the Rams held the Raiders to 217 total yards - and forced Zulli into a 13-for-27 afternoon, with two interceptions. Leading Shepherd's unexpected 243-yard rushing attack was sophomore Allen Cross with 106 yards and true freshman Jabre Lolley with 95.
"It was a great win for our program," said Cater, who brings his team to Fairmont State this week. "If it's a legitimate seventh-ranked team, that's tremendous. But we'll take that with a grain of salt."
Closer to home, University of Charleston coach Pat Kirkland is battling practice-time storms and the memory of a 44-14 loss to Shaw (Raleigh, N.C.) last weekend. A journey to Division I FCS Southern Illinois this weekend doesn't make things easier.
UC is not heading to Carbondale to get a paycheck, though that will happen. The Golden Eagles found themselves without a game with few options, and SIU needed a game on this particular weekend.
Here's how that happened, in condensed form: The new Mountain East's initial football first-year scheduling was going to be challenging anyway, and the plan of a 10-game conference schedule wasn't going to happen right away. Some teams, such as West Virginia State, do have all 10 MEC opponents, but UC has nine.
"In the initial season of the Mountain East Conference, the majority of our institutions had contracts in place for the Week 1 of 2013 that would have been difficult and/or expensive to terminate," said MEC commissioner Reid Amos. "As such, the MEC has a nine-game slate in 2013 and a 10-game slate in 2014."
UC was given additional dispensation in the second week to finish its contract with St. Joseph's College of Renssalaer, Ind. Then, out of the blue, UC officials discovered that St. Joseph's scheduled another opponent for this weekend, Siena Heights of Michigan.
UC could have taken a bye week, but coach Pat Kirkland wanted his team to play an 11-game schedule and SIU contacted the MEC office looking for an opponent. The match was made.
With the weather, UC had some extra sessions to watch the Shaw video, which could classify as a horror film. The Eagles were outgained 520-148 and allowed Shaw to convert 11 first downs in 16 chances.
"First and foremost, we played a very good Shaw team," Kirkland said. "Personnel-wise, they had eight or 11 new starters, transfers mostly. Our defense played good enough to win on first and second down, but we couldn't get off the field."
State heads to Concord this weekend trying to forget its disaster, a 31-13 loss at Lock Haven, Pa. The Yellow Jackets owned a 26-12 advantage in first downs and a 358-254 edge in total yards, but special-teams disasters helped give Lock Haven TD drives of 3, 26 and 46 yards.
Twice, State punter Cory Broughton had trouble fielding snaps, incurring big losses on fourth down.
"We had a couple of low snaps on punts. The protection was fine," said first-year coach Jon Anderson. "Our punter inadvertently put his knee down once, and had another one go through his legs. We need a good snap and good operation time, and we've been working hard to correct that."
LeFloyd Phillips ran for 106 yards on 26 carries and Josh Wade added 65 on 10 attempts. Tyler Seals went 20 of 38 for 206 yards and one interception, but didn't throw his one touchdown pass until there was 2:28 left in the game.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5140, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.