Rams thrash Millersville in home fi­nale

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Neil Geoghe­gan ngeoghe­gan@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @NeilMGeoghe­gan on Twit­ter

The West Ch­ester Golden Rams closed out their 2016 home slate on Satur­day by em­phat­i­cally thump­ing Millersville, 52-0, in a PSAC East Se­nior Day con­test at Far­rell Sta­dium.

The pre­sea­son goals – from a divi­sion ti­tle, to a con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship, to a berth in the NCAA Divi­sion II Play­offs – have all grad­u­ally fallen by the way­side for West Ch­ester foot­ball.

But that didn’t stop the Golden Rams from clos­ing out the 2016 home slate on Satur­day by em­phat­i­cally thump­ing Millersville, 520, in a PSAC East Se­nior Day con­test at Far­rell Sta­dium.

The tri­umph was WCU’s fifth straight since a sea­son-defin­ing six-point set­back at Kutz­town that will likely haunt head coach Bill Zwaan and his staff for years. As a re­sult, the Rams (6-1, 7-3) were forced to set­tle for a sec­ond place fin­ish in the six-team PSAC East after Kutz­town wrapped up a per­fect divi­sion mark with a 32-6 win ver­sus Cheyney. The Golden Bears will rep­re­sent the east in the PSAC Cham­pi­onship Game next Satur­day, while the Rams will close out the reg­u­lar sea­son at Clar­ion.

“We don’t think about Kutz­town in the back of our mind, it’s right up front,” Zwaan ad­mit­ted. “We are go­ing to look back on this sea­son and say, ‘if not that, we’d be in the play­offs.’

“You can’t dwell on it, but it’s cer­tainly a re­gret.”

Since the bit­ter mis­take-filled loss against Kutz­town, WCU has outscored the next five foes by a com­bined 156-34, and Satur­day was the most lop­sided of them all. It was the most points scored all sea­son, and was also the first WCU shutout since 2014. Zwaan is now a per­fect 14-0 against the Ma­raud­ers and the Rams have held Millersville to un­der 10 points for the fourth straight time.

“You al­ways worry about the mo­ti­va­tion piece, but our kids have been very, very good with un­der­stand­ing where we are and what they want to do,” Zwaan said.

“There is no ques­tion they wanted to win ev­ery game from (Kutz­town) on out. When their backs were against the wall in the Ship­pens­burg game, they came out and played great, and they’ve played well ever since.”

On a sun-splashed day in front of 2,745, the Rams rolled up 577 yards, lim­ited Millersville (1-6, 2-8) to 267 to­tal yards, and the de­fense staged two goalline stands that ul­ti­mately pre­served the shutout.

“We didn’t look at our op­po­nent’s record or any­thing like that. We just worked hard all week lead­ing up this this game,” said big-play line­backer Ny­dair Rouse.

“We’ve had a cou­ple op­por­tu­ni­ties to do it, so I was re­ally happy our de­fense hung in there and got the shutout,” Zwaan added.

Dy­namic ju­nior run­ning back Jerel El­der scored three times on runs of 38-, 10- and 25-yards, and quar­ter­back Andrew Derr came off the bench to toss a cou­ple TDs. Fully re­cov­ered from a foot in­jury, Derr didn’t get the start (Pat Mo­ri­arty did), but the ju­nior saw the ma­jor­ity of the snaps. More ex­plo­sive -- but also more turnover prone -- Derr was a solid 12 of 22 for 276 yards, and no in­ter­cep­tions.

“When Andrew doesn’t turn it over, he is ef­fec­tive,” Zwaan said. “He made some re­ally nice throws, espe­cially on the run. As long as he doesn’t (turn it over), that is the key for him. He is high­risk, high-re­ward, and to­day he was high-re­ward.”

Play­ing in the last home game of his ca­reer, cor­ner­back Blaise Schieler nabbed his first col­lege in­ter­cep­tion late in the first quar­ter, which led to a 34yard scor­ing strike from Derr to Jordan Banks. Ear­lier, the Rams opened the scor­ing thanks to the 38-yarder by El­der.

West Ch­ester made three more sec­ond quar­ter for­ays into the red zone, but only man­aged to score three more points, on a last minute 27-yard field goal by Bren­dan Pauli­son. The de­fense, how­ever, made it 24-0 when Rouse notched his third pick-six of the sea­son on the last play of the half. The sopho­more stepped in front of a J.J. Paige pass and re­turned it 79 yards.

“He’s been do­ing that all sea­son,” El­der said.

“I would have liked it to be a lit­tle bit eas­ier in the first half, but the in­ter­cep­tion was so big,” Zwaan added. “That re­ally made a dif­fer­ence.”

The first team of­fense was more ef­fi­cient in the third quar­ter with three more TDs -- in­clud­ing a 37-yard strike from Derr to Tyler Karpin­sky – be­fore giv­ing way to the back­ups. El­der added two more scor­ing runs, with one com­ing on the heels of an in­ter­cep­tion by Ted Pat­ton, and Mike Class rounded out the scor­ing with a late touch­down.

“There were some neg­a­tives with the drives we didn’t fin­ish in the first half,” said El­der, who fin­ished with 89 yards on 11 car­ries. “But in the third quar­ter we just sharp­ened it up.”

In all, four quar­ter­backs got into the game for the Rams, and they com­bined to hit eight dif­fer­ent re­ceivers, in­clud­ing four catches for 60 yards by Shan­non Mayer, who has had an in­jury-marred se­nior sea­son. Surg­ing de­fen­sive end Ch’Aim Smith led the way with seven tack­les, in­clud­ing a sack and an­other tackle for loss.

Even if West Ch­ester tops Clar­ion to fin­ish off an 8-3 cam­paign, the win­dow for a berth in the NCAA Divi­sion II Play­offs just isn’t there. Zwaan know it, but his play­ers are still hold­ing out hope.

“It just shows how easy it is to lose ev­ery- thing with one slip-up in this league. But things can hap­pen, so you never know,” El­der said.

“You have to keep mov­ing for­ward and have faith that the pieces will fall for you,” Rouse added. “We are just go­ing to keep go­ing -- there is still a chance. We’re not go­ing to give up.”

NOTE >> WCU All-Amer­i­can left tackle Doug Gil­bert left the game in the sec­ond quar­ter with a back in­jury. “It got stiff in the first half and he couldn’t get com­fort­able, but there was re­ally no rea­son to play him,” Zwaan ex­plained. “He should be back next week.”

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