By ANDY WOLF
SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. — Rob Keys was brought up on ball control.
“Ball control is the name of the game,” the University of Findlay football coach said.
The Oilers rode 41 minutes of possession and forced two second-half turnovers to stun No. 2-ranked Shepherd 29-17 on Saturday in the NCAA Division II Super Region I first-round playoff matchup at Shepherd University’s Ram Field.
“If we can run it first to open up the pass that’s what we’re going to do,” Keys said.
Findlay (10-2) advanced to meet No. 3 seed Assumption (10-1), which defeated California (Pa.) 40-31 Saturday, in the regional semifinals Saturday in Worcester, Massachusetts.
The Oilers, the No. 7 seed, earned the school’s first Division II postseason victory by running at will while remaining balanced, rushing for 277 yards and throwing for 294.
Findlay ran 98 plays to Shepherd’s 52.
Saturday’s matchup featured the No. 7 rushing offense in Findlay vs. the No. 9 rushing defense in Shepherd.
The Rams (10-1) yielded only 2.6 yards per carry and 86.2 yards per game in the regular season. They had only allowed 291 yards on the ground in their last four games.
Findlay nearly matched that with 277 on Saturday.
Senior Daouda Sylla had a career day with 205 yards and a touchdown. His 33 carries were also a career high. Teammate Michael Campbell added 93 yards and a score on 20 carries.
“The offensive line did an amazing job today. They always do,” Sylla said. “When we can come out and control the ball like that it’s always to our advantage.”
Sylla’s 1-yard touchdown on UF’s opening drive of the second half resulted in a huge boost.
The Oilers went into halftime trailing 17-9, having to settle for Jacob Allton field goals on their three red zone trips.
But Keys wasn’t worried.
After all, his team did pile up 285 yards in the first half.
“Red zone, we were terrible,” Keys said. “I did not like the way we played red zone offense.
“We did move the ball effectively and I thought if we can have a really good start to the second half, score a touchdown and the defense can answer, we can get the lead and run the clock out and continue to drive the ball.”
After the defense held serve, the offense went back to work.
Findlay chewed up 5:08 off the clock in 11 plays to go ahead 23-17 on Campbell’s 4-yard touchdown run plus a 2-point pass from Rhys Gervais to Airion Kosak.
But the Rams didn’t go quietly.
Shepherd drove the 1-yard line, on the verge of retaking control.
But UF junior defensive back Chiebuka Chukwuneke stepped in front of a receiver to pick off a Connor Jessop pass just in front of the goal line.
“Before the play I actually saw him signal something to (the receiver) and film study told me they don’t throw many fades in the red zone,” Chukwuneke said. “I was sitting on the slant and held my leverage. He threw the ball right to me. I was happy to make the play.”
While UF could sigh somewhat, the Oilers still had 99 yards to reach the goal line.
When a rushing play didn’t gain anything, Gervais threw to 6-foot-5 Drew Ogletree and drew a defensive pass interference.
That set the Oilers in motion, although they were faced with a fourth-and-1 at the UF 31.
“I flipped a coin,” Keys said with a laugh.
Sylla ripped off a 13-yard run and three plays later, Gervais lofted a pass over the Shepherd defense to Kosak for a 52-yard touchdown strike.
That score, plus an Aaron Ivory interception on Shepherd’s final drive with 6:49 to go, helped seal the game as Findlay melted the remaining time off the clock in 12 plays.
“He’s been making those types of plays for us all season long,” Chukwuneke said of Ivory, a senior. “Me and him looked at each other after that play. We’ve been talking about it all week. If we get our turnovers, me and (Ivory), these guys are going to have a tough time beating us.
“It felt like it was the seal of the deal after that one.”
Collectively, the defense pitched a shutout in the second half and surrendered just 107 yards to the Rams (304 total).
Shepherd entered as the No. 2 offense in terms of scoring (48.5 ppg) and total yards (527.4 ypg).
“We knew we had a pretty big challenge at hand,” Chukwuneke said, citing Shepherd’s talent at the skill positions.
Jessop ended 18 of 37 for 248 yards with two touchdowns. Ryan Feiss led with 81 yards and a touchdown on eight catches. Jabre Lolley, Shepherd’s 1,000-yard back, was held to 14 yards on eight carries.
Andrew Ogletree led Findlay with 81 yards on six catches. Jason Moore added 76 on four catches, all in the first half.
NOTES: With the men’s basketball team reaching the Sweet 16 last season, Findlay is the only Division II school to go as far in both sports in the same year.
Findlay 6 3 14 6 — 29
Shepherd 14 3 0 0 — 17
UF — FG Allton 30
Shep — Feiss 6 pass from Jessop (Wise kick)
UF — FG Allton 32
Shep — Allen 47 pass from Jessop (Wise kick)
UF — FG Allton 36
Shep — FG Wise 32
UF — Sylla 1 run (pass failed)
UF — Campbell 4 run (Kosak pass from Gervais)
UF — Kosak 52 pass from Gervais (pass failed)
First Downs 34 16
Rushes-yards 57-277 15-56
Passing Yards 294 248
Comp-Att-Int 21-41-1 18-37-2
Punts-Avg. 1-31 5-43.6
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 1-0
Penalties-Yards 6-55 5-66
rushing — Findlay, Sylla 33-205, Campbell 20-93, team 2-(minus-10), Gervais 2-(minus-11). Shepherd, Jessop 5-21, Glover 2-21, Lolley 8-14.
passing — Findlay, Gervais 21-41-294-1. Shepherd, Jessop 18-37-248-2.
receiving — Ogletree 6-81, Moore 4-76, Kosak 1-52, Boucher 3-39, Stuffel 3-32, Hill 2-8, Sylla 1-5, Campbell 1-1. Shepherd, Cornish 5-87, Feiss 8-81, Allen 4-68, Norris 1-12.
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