Rams thrash Millersville in home finale
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.”