By Mike DeFabo
Times West Virginian
Shepherd University has had Fairmont State’s number in recent years, defeating the Falcons the last four games and 14 of the last 16.
But as first-year head coach Jason Woodman pointed out, the Falcons aren’t the only ones who have had a hard time handling the Rams.
“Shepherd’s had just about everybody’s number for a long time,” Woodman said.
The Falcons will try to end that streak today when they open Mountain East Conference play against the Rams at 1 p.m. at Duvall-Rosier Field.
It won’t be an easy task. The Rams, ranked first in the MEC preseason poll, are coming off a 33-0 shutout victory over No. 7 Shippensburg University.
The stingy defense is led by freshman linebacker Octavius Thomas, who was named the first-ever Mountain East Defensive Player of the Week after recording seven tackles (six solo) and recovering a fumble.
Woodman said that despite Thomas’ accolades, the Falcons won’t change their game plan to try to slow him down.
“We haven’t focused on any one player,” he said. “We know that they have talent all over the board. All of their players are pretty good.”
Fairmont State made a strong defensive statement of its own in its opener against Seton Hill by forcing five turnovers, including Jordan Armstrong’s 18-yard pick-6. The defense also limited the Griffins to just three points after the Falcons started the game by turning the ball over twice in under two minutes, both times inside of its own 25-yard line.
“Offensively, we let our defense down a lot,” Woodman said. “They rose to the occasion and bailed us out. We’re just looking to put a whole game together.”
The Falcons’ defense, which held Seton Hill to just 46 rushing yards, will have its hands full trying to slow down Shepherd’s Allen Cross and Jabre Lolley, who combined for more than 200 yards on the ground last week. Shepherd is the only team in the MEC to allow fewer yards on the ground (32).
For a Fairmont State backfield that may be without injured running backs Daniel Monroe and Shad Alexander, Dawrence Roberts will be asked to carry the load.
Woodman admitted, “We’re thin at that position.”
Though Roberts rushed for more than 100 yards in the opener, the lack of depth at the position as well as the Rams’ ability to stop the run will put the pressure on Fairmont State’s passing game.
Quarterbacks Cooper Hibbs and C.J. Hopson will both see playing time again today. Woodman use the same formula last week. He’s hoping it will work again as the Falcons try to end Shepherd’s run and advance to 2-0.
“I think it would be great to get a win over a perennial power like Shepherd, especially right now with them being so high and them being such a good football team,” he said. “For the program it would be a great win, and it would be something we could continue to build on.”
Email Mike DeFabo at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @MikeDeFaboTWV.