— by Luke Wiggs
GOLDEN, Col. — For the second time in as many years, Shepherd’s season ended in a national semifinal. This time around, the Rams lost Saturday at Colorado School of Mines, 44-13
After allowing just 16 sacks all season long, Shepherd surrendered eight to Mines. The Rams also had four turnovers, including two interceptions thrown by Tyson Bagent, who also lost a fumble that Logan Rayburn returned 11 yards for a touchdown late in the first half to give the home team a 17-3 lead. Bagent had thrown only six interceptions over the season’s first 14 games.
The game was tied midway through the second quarter on a pair of field goals — the first 34 yards by Jacob Click of Mines, before Shepherd’s Jacob Haynie split the uprights from 29.
The Orediggers then scored 35 unanswered points to seize a commanding lead in the game.
Max McLeod, en route to a three-ttouchdown, 214-yard receiving yard performance, hauled in a 53-yard toss from quarterback John Matocha at the 7:31 mark of the second quarter to give Mines a 10-3 lead.
“He’s a weapon, he’s dynamic he’s explosive, the words go on.” Matocha said about his top target. “He’s a joy to throw to, I have weapons everywhere and they get each other open.”
Rayburn’s return of Bagent’s fumble enabled the Orediggers to double their advantage and lead 17-3 at halftime.
“We had to be able to put the ball in the end zone.” Shepherd head coach Ernie McCook said. “I was hoping we’d be able to put a solid drive together coming out of halftime, but we had some adversity and some emotion but we stuck together and continued to fight to the end.”
The Orediggers scored twice within a 90-second window in the third on touchdown passes by Matocha — one of 27 yards to McLeod and the other 33 yards to Josh Johnston that made it 31-3 with 7:56 to play int he quarter.
McLeod’s 14-yard touchdown catch late in the third put SU in a 38-3 hole entering the fourth.
Shepherd got into the red zone on its first fourth-quarter series, but a personal foul penalty and sack pushed the Rams back and caused them to settle for Haynie’s 43-yard field goal — the longest of his career.
“The altitude definitely helped out a bit. It felt good to make a few kicks.” Haynie said. “Obviously I wish I was kicking more extra points today, but I’m still proud of our seniors and our team.”
Matocha hooked up with Mason Karp through the air from 14 yards away for Mines’ final score and Matocha’s 5th touchdown pass.
“John is the best D2 football player, and we’ve got him on our team.” Mines head coach Brandon Moore said. “He’s always going to provide you with some kind of a spark you’ll be in any game you need to be in and you’ll never be out of it with a player that dynamic.”
Ronnie Brown’s 75-yard run in response provided Shepherd with its lone touchdown.
Mines out-gained Shepherd 469-299 and was 8-of-14 on third down to Shepherd 5 of 17 mark, including 0 of 6 in the second half.
Bagent, the all-time touchdown passes leader in all levels of college football,ended his collegiate career with one more record — the Division II mark for completions as he finished with 1,400.
“We could not have asked for a more magical season.” Bagent said. “We played better than everybody thought, and played as a team throughout the season.”
Mines earned the win in front of a record crowd of 6,191 and advances to the Division II title game against Ferris State.