To say Fairmont State’s football team has its work cutout for itself this week may be a bit of an understatment.

The Falcons travel to Shepherdstown this Saturday for a 1 p.m. showdown with the elite team in the West Virginia Conference — Shepherd University.

The powerful Rams are currently ranked in all three major NCAA Division II Football Polls and enter Saturday’s game with FSU at Ram Stadium riding a 22-game regular-season winning streak. Shepherd is ranked ninth in the American Football Coaches’ Association Poll, 11th in Don Hansen’s Weekly Football Gazette Poll and 12th by D2Football.com.

“This is going to be the hardest game we’ve played all season,” said FSU senior running back Wendell Johnson. “For us, we’ve got nothing to lose and they have everything to lose. That’s the type of mentality we have to have going in there.

“This is quite possibly the best team on our schedule. They’re nationally ranked. They have a long regular-season winning streak, they’re very solid on both sides of the ball and they’re well-coached. We just have to try to build off of our win last week and go over there and play hard, mistake-free football.”

In this decade Shepherd has posted a 48-18 overall record (.727) and since the beginning of the 2005 season the Rams have lost just once, 28-21, to C.W. Post in the second round of last fall’s Division II playoffs. Shepherd avenged that loss earlier this season by routing the nationally-ranked Pioneers 24-0 back on Sept. 16.

As Johnson noted Shepherd is very solid on both sides of the football. The Rams have allowed just 13 points in four games this season and come into this weekend’s contest with the No. 1 scoring defense in the nation (3.2 points per game allowed). Shepherd has allowed just two touchdowns in 16 quarters and has shutout two of its opponents.

Shepherd’s is first in the West Virginia Conference and 20th in the country in total defense as it allows just 228.7 yards per outing. The Rams give up a league-low 88.2 yards rushing per contest and 140.5 yards per game through the air which ranks third in the WVC.

Offensively Shepherd is last in the nine-team WVC in passing as the Rams only average 107.8 yards per game. That, however, is because Shepherd does not have to pass a lot and when it does senior quarterback Dan Chlebowski is very efficient. He’s completed 64.9 percent of his passes (50-of-77) for 411 yards and two touchdowns. He’s been intercepted three times.

The Rams’ rushing game is tops in the league and 20th in the country. Shepherd averages 197.5 yards per game on the ground and 305.2 yards of total offense per outing. Shepherd is led on the ground by talented junior tailback Dervon Wallace, who has 623 yards and eight touchdowns on just 97 attempts. He averages 6.4 yards per carry and has gone over 190 yards on the ground himself in each of Shepherd’s last two games.

“Personally I love playing in big games and I like being the underdog in those games,” said FSU junior defensive end Brandon Geary. “If you can win with the odds stacked against you it gives you a great feeling.

“We’re coming off a win which helped our morale and has made us work even harder, but we also know we’re going to have to play very well and show a lot of talent to have a chance at another win Saturday. Shepherd is a very good football team. They’re the best in the league until someone proves otherwise.”

The closest game for the Rams in the last year-and-a-half was last season’s 14-11 victory over Fairmont State at Duvall-Rosier Field.

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