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PREP FOOTBALL: Shepherd snaps losing streak, tops Alma via hot start

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It’s hard to believe that Shepherd’s 30-25 victory over the Alma Panthers was its first of the year.

But it was.

The Bluejays (1-7) jumped out to an 18-0 lead Friday, led by senior running back Brandon Stressman who scored all three touchdowns, and held on from there to break a 13-game losing streak.

“It’s a great win. The kids really deserve it. They have been working their butts off this whole season. We haven’t had the success we have wanted, but I have to give those guys their credit. They show up every day and get better,” Shepherd head coach Nathan Ferency said following the win.

The Panthers (1-7) eventually roared to life in the second half where sophomore quarterback Justin Doyle ran for two scores and threw for another.

“It was a learning season. We had some young kids in key spots who were able to get better this season. We are better than our record and we are going to be better in the future. It has been a little down turn, but Alma football will be back,” Alma head coach Jeff Ingersoll said.

From the opening whistle, the Bluejays were dominant on both sides of the ball. Stressman ran the ball seven straight times, gaining 60 yards and scoring a one-yard touchdown on the opening drive.

The Shepherd defense would force the Panthers into a three-and-out and Stressman was at it again. Alma had no answer for the 170- pound back as Shepherd marched down the field for another score. The Bluejays went for two-point conversions after both scores and failed both. The Panthers only had six offensive snaps in the quarter and trailed 12-0 at the end of one.

Shepherd got the ball back in the second quarter and continued to run the ball right at the Alma defense. Stressman had several big runs and capped off the 57-yard drive with a bone crunching 28-yard run.

Shepherd went for two again and failed, yet led 18-0 at the time.

“You have to give it to (Stressman), he’s been good all year and he is a tough runner. I’m glad he finally got his breakout game,” Ferency said.

After giving up 18 points, the shellshocked Panthers started to find their footing. Doyle connected with wide receiver Matt Young to move the chains early in the ensuing drive before Alma got into a fourth down situation at the Shepherd 41.

With just a few inches to go, Doyle exploded through the line with a keeper and picked up five yards. The Alma drive continued until Skylar Neyome picked off a Doyle pass with 1:31 left in the half.

Alma got a second chance after stopping Stressman and went on to make the most of it. Doyle was able to find a few receivers and drove the Panthers down to the one-yard line. He finished the drive himself with a one-yard score to cut the deficit to 18-7.

After the break, the teams exchanged a pair of punts before Alma got moving. The Panthers made huge plays through the air and on the ground. The 80-yard drive was capped off by a 16-yard run by senior running back Jonny Goulette. The Panthers went for two and were unable to convert making the score 18-13.

Shepherd needed a response and got one on their next drive. Long runs by Stressman led to a sweeping, 26-yard run by junior running back Tristian Foster.

Foster would strike for pay dirt again on the Bluejays’ next drive running 44-yards to the end zone.

The Panthers were down 30-13 with 7:44 left to go in the game, but didn’t seem to be phased by it. Doyle was able to find plenty of wide receivers and drove the ball 60 yards in just over two minutes. The drive ended with an eight-yard pass to junior Jalen Pereida and a blocked extra point.

Alma followed up the score by recovering sophomore Brevan Bender’s onside kick at the 48 yard line. Doyle led the Panthers on the ground and eventually scored a one-yard touchdown with 4:55 seconds left to go.

“The kids didn’t quit and I am proud of them and I’m proud of the way they kept going,” Ingersoll said.

Shepherd wore down the clock as they held on to a 30-25 lead, but gave the ball back to the Panthers with 2:37 remaining in the game.

Alma was able to move the ball to midfield, but the Bluejay defense stood them up when it mattered. Back to back sacks on third and fourth down sent Jays fans into delirium, and handed Shepherd the 30-25 victory.

“Our defense played well most of the game, but they put us in a bind at the end. At 0-7 it’s hard to get resilience out of the kids and I’m real damn proud of them,” Ferency said. “One win is better than none. These kids deserve it and it feels good to get it. We didn’t want a goose egg to finish the season and we’ve been getting better all season. We finally got over the hump and I hope we can keep it rolling.”

Shepherd goes on to face three-time state champion Ithaca next week in the season finale.

“We are going to treat it like any other game. It’s a big game for us because Ithaca has been a rivalry for a long time and we are going to treat it like a rivalry regardless of what they have going on. We are going to prepare the best we can and give ourselves a chance to win,” Ferency said.

Last Updated: 10/19/2013 10:55:31 AM EST