By Matt Leon
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – There are many ways to measure whether or not you have had a successful season in college football. One example: if you are still practicing during the first week of December, things are going really well.
That’s the case at West Chester University as the 12-1 Golden Rams have advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division II Championship Tournament. They will visit Shepherd University down in West Virginia on Saturday.
“It’s fun because last week you’re practicing on Thanksgiving and we got a little snow the day before Thanksgiving, so that was kind of a neat week for us,” West Chester head coach Bill Zwaan tells KYW Newsradio. “Now we’re in the final eight, got a chance to go to the final four. It’s only the second time in the school’s history we’ve been practicing in December, so it’s exciting for everybody around here.”
West Chester got here with an impressive road win over Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference rival Bloomsburg last week, 40-38. The win also gave the Golden Rams a bit of revenge as it was Bloomsburg that handed them their only loss during the regular season.
“We made plays,” Zwaan says. “We made plays on defense, even though they gained a lot of yards against us, we made plays when we needed to. Offensively, we made a lot of big plays. (Quarterback) Sean McCartney had a great game, (running back) Rondell White like usual, (tight end) Tim Brown had a nice game for us. A lot of guys made plays, our kicker, Shawn Leo, was huge. At this time of the year, you’ve got to have guys make plays in the big games and so far, so good.”
McCartney really was exceptional as the triggerman of the West Chester attack. The junior threw for 348 yards and three touchdowns in the victory.
“We had never beaten them my entire career here,” McCartney tells KYW Newsradio. “So that was kind of something special to get that win under our belt, let everyone know we are a good team, we can play with them.”
Shepherd is 11-0 coming into Saturday’s game. In their second round game, they shut-out Winston-Salem State, 7-0. Shepherd has an outstanding defense and that unit was dominant in that win, holding Winston-Salem to eight first downs and 159 total yards of offense. Zwaan says their success on defense starts right at the point of attack.
“Really good defensive front,” Zwaan says. “They lead the country in a couple defensive categories and when you watch them on film, you can see why. Very aggressive, I think all their front guys are seniors, so they have an older group, like our offensive line is an older group. When you have older guys, you can do a few different things with them. But they are probably, as a group, the best defensive front that we’ve faced.”
Shepherd allows just 12.1 points per game and that is the lowest number in the nation in Division II.
“It’s going to be a tough game for us, but we’ve got confidence in our ability to put some points up on the board and that’s what we want to do,” McCartney says. “They’re the top defense in the country, so it’s going to be a tough game, but we’ve just got to stick to what we do and try and not make too many mistakes and we’ll be alright.”
On the other side of the football, Zwaan says Shepherd is pretty airtight.
“Offensively, they just don’t make mistakes,” Zwaan says. “They run the ball, they eat the clock. Their quarterback manages the game. So nothing real spectacular, but good, solid, offensive football.”
This is just the second time West Chester has made it to the quarterfinals. The first was back in 2004. That year the Golden Rams advanced all the way to the semifinals before losing to eventual national champion Valdosta State.
Saturday’s game at Shepherd University will kick-off at noon.
You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattleonkyw.