By Matt Leon
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – You don’t get to the national semifinals of the NCAA Division II Championship Tournament without getting some really special performances.
For West Chester University, who will visit Lenoir-Rhyne University on Saturday in the “Final Four”, one of the most impressive post-season resumes is being put together by sophomore defensive back Brandon Pepper.
He intercepted one pass during the regular season, but here in the post-season, Pepper has been a takeaway machine. The Pennsbury High School product has picked off four opponent throws in West Chester’s three playoff wins, including one he took back for a game-clinching touchdown in West Chester’s quarterfinal victory over Shepherd University.
“This is the most fun I’ve had playing football my whole life,” Pepper tells KYW Newsradio. “It’s been a great ride, but obviously we want to keep it going.”
As incredible as this postseason performance has been, Pepper, the younger brother of Dalton Pepper, a senior forward on the Temple basketball team, is quick to point out that he’s not doing it alone.
“Coach (defensive coordinator Mike) Furlong and (assistant head coach/defensive backs) Coach (Gerald) Toney have set us up well and been calling very good game plans,” Pepper says. “We’ve just been going out and executing. And then when I’ve gotten my opportunities to get my hands on the ball, I’ve been able to capitalize on them.”
West Chester head coach Bill Zwaan says Pepper has really come a long way in his first year as a key piece of the defense.
“He had to step in for John O’Donnell, who was a really good player for us last year,” Zwaan tells KYW Newsradio. “And Pep’s job is to call the defenses. As a young guy, it took him a little while to get comfortable doing everything. But over the year, he’s just played better and better and better. Now you can see the confidence level, because now he feels really comfortable with making the calls and he feels comfortable playing the position now. So he’s a different kid than when the season started.”
Has it hit Pepper just how incredible his post-season performance has been?
“I’ve thought about it a little bit,” Pepper says. “But mainly really just thought about, besides the four picks, the fact that we’re in the final four, (that) means even more to me, obviously.”
Zwaan is very happy to have Pepper patrolling his secondary.
“He’s stepping up and making big plays,” Zwaan says. “Not just making plays, but big plays for us. And obviously four interceptions in the playoffs . . . I don’t know how many people have done that. Certainly not many at West Chester.”
West Chester and Lenoir-Rhyne will kick-off at noon on Saturday in Hickory, North Carolina.
You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattleonkyw.