Quarterback Tyson Bagent called Shepherd the Team of Fate.
Coach Ernie McCook isn’t so sure, saying: “I think we’re a team that play four quarters of football and don’t give up and find a way to win.”
Have the Rams ever.
Shepherd, eighth in the standings, is in the Division II semi-final today against first and undefeated Ferris State, having had to rally in the fourth quarter of his three playoff wins and used every last second in the last two playoff wins.
Bagent threw touchdown passes to Josh Gontarek and Alex Whetzel in the final offensive plays of the last two games to send Shepherd to his fourth domestic semifinal since 2010.
The host Bulldogs, who are the seeds of the remaining four teams, are playing their third consecutive national semi-final and their fourth in five years. Ferris is 12-0.
The winner of today’s game at 3:30 p.m. will face No.2 Valdosta State or Colorado School of Mines in the National Championship game in McKinney, Texas, a week from today.
âWe have a tough road ahead of us with Ferris State,â said McCook. âThey’re No. 1 for a reason and they’re undefeated for a reason.
“We can come in as huge underdogs.”
Even so, the Rams (13-1) have a head start on Ferris to score the offense. The Rams lead the nation with 46.4 points per game and the Bulldogs second at 45.7.
In all-out attack, Shepherd fell to second this week behind Valdosta while Ferris is third. The Rams are averaging 517.2 yards per game and the Bullldogs 501.7.
Both coaches, McCook and Tony Annese of Ferris rejected the idea of ââa 70-60 type game with the stupendous infractions of both teams.
âMaybe it could be,â said McCook, âbut I think their defense is really good, and we have to work on it.
“They’re the best football team I’ve seen in theaters all this year and the best I’ve seen in quite some time.”
Ferris operates his attack differently from Shepherd, using multiple quarterbacks, each of which is as likely to pass the ball as they are to rush it.
Annese said the Bulldogs could use three quarters as Jared Bernhardt, an All-American lacrosse player in Maryland before transferring to Ferris to play football, completed some practice work this week. He has played eight games this season and threw for 1,271 yards and ran for a team-record 1,072 yards.
Mylik Mitchell did most of the work, completing 77 of 120 passes for 1,148 yards. Third team Evan Cummins added 402 yards in the air. Neither of them is the runner that Bernhardt is.
Ferris’ best running back is Tyler Minor, who has 700 rushing yards.
The Bulldogs’ top receiver is Marcus Taylor with 61 receptions for 848 yards.
Offensive lineman Dylan Pasqualli won the Gene Upshaw Award as the nation’s best lineman.
âIt will be a tall order to get to Ferris and have a shot at winning this ball game,â said McCook.
The two teams have a common opponent, Findlay.
Ferris opened the season with a 54-14 victory over Findlay as the Rams ousted the Oilers 38-31 in the first round of the playoffs.
In the win, Bagent completed 22 of 34 passes for 288 yards and two touchdowns.
Bagent, a finalist for the Harlon Hill Trophy as the top Division II player, threw for 4,751 yards and 52 touchdowns. He is the national leader in both categories.
Ryan Beach’s 91 receptions are eight close to matching the school’s record. He has 13 touchdowns, three ahead of Gontarek, who has 61 receptions.
Shepherd’s top running back Ronnie Brown is set to produce a 1,000-yard season. He’s 933 yards away, while Ty Hebron and Chantz Swartz combined for 1,166 more.
The game will air on ESPN +.
âIt has been a remarkable season so far,â said McCook. âWhen the playoffs started, we just wanted to keep the football team together for as long as we could,â said McCook.
Until the dying seconds of their playoff games.
Or, as Bagent would say, Shepherd’s fate.