Shepherd, W. Va. – It took 17 years of NCAA Division II competition, but on Saturday, Nov. 18 in Shepherdstown, W. Va., the University of Findlay football team earned their first ever NCAA Playoff victory. Findlay improved their record to 10-2 on the year with a 29-17 win over No. 2 Shepherd University, giving the Rams, now 10-1, their first and only loss of the year. It was the first time in the NCAA DII era of Oilers' football that Findlay has beaten a team ranked in the AFCA top-five.
Findlay, which is now 6-2 in Week 12 games all-time, got on the scoreboard first on a 30-yard field goal by Jacob Allton, who would finish the day a perfect three-for-three. Before the first quarter would run out, Shepherd's no. 2 ranked scoring offense, at 48.5 points per game, would reach the end zone a pair of times. Both were touchdown passes by 3,000-yard passer Connor Jessop.
Trailing 14-6 through one quarter, the Oilers would get another field goal by Allton with four minutes left in the half and possessed the ball with 1:19 to play. However, an interception led to a field goal for Shepherd as the half expired, giving the Rams a 17-9 advantage at the break.
The third quarter saw Findlay reach the end zone for the first time as Daouda Sylla dove in from one yard out to pull the Oilers within two points at 17-15. After a failed two-point conversion, the Oilers' defense forced an incompletion on third and nine, forcing the Rams to punt. Findlay then capped an 11-play, 79-yard drive with a four-yard touchdown run by junior Michael Campbell to take their first lead since early in the game.
The Oilers secondary, self-titled the 'Air-Marshals', had been a big part of Findlay's success all season. In Saturday's win, that group would come up with two plays late in the game that sealed the upset of the nation's second-ranked team.
Entering the fourth quarter, Findlay led 23-17, but Shepherd, with the ball in their possession, drove deep into Oilers' territory. After a pass interference call gave the Rams the ball on Findlay's eight yard line, junior Chiebuka Chukwuneke made one of the biggest plays of the season for an Oilers' secondary that has had a myriad of highlights in 2017. Jessop, the Rams quarterback, looked for his receiver Duron Norris on a slant route, but Chukwuneke jumped the route and intercepted the ball on the one yard line, giving Findlay the ball.
Shepherd again had the ball and needed a score to keep the game within reach, but the 'Air-Marshals' would come up big again. Senior Aaron Ivory, recently named as the Great Midwest Defensive Back of the Year, ended the Rams' seven-play, 27-yard drive with a sliding interception that all but ended the game. It was Ivory's fifth interception of the season.
Senior Daouda Sylla had a career day, rushing a career-high 33 times for 205 yards, also a career-high. It was the first time Findlay had a 200-yard rusher since Nov. 9, 2013 when Daiquone Ford ran for 209 against Malone. Sylla picked up 6.2 yards per carry and scored a touchdown to help lead a rushing attack that finished with 277 yards on the ground. Senior Michael Campbell contributed 93 hard-earned yards to that total. He ran the ball 20 times and scored one touchdown.
On the other side of the ball, Findlay's defense put together arguably their best performance of the season, holding the Rams to their lowest amount of rushing yards, 56, and passing yards, 248, of the season. The Oilers' defense forced the Rams into short drives, allowing Shepherd to run just 52 plays, compared to Findlay's 98, and letting the Rams possess the ball for less than 19 minutes.
Rhys Gervais finished the game 21-for-41 for 294 yards and one touchdown. He threw one interception, which led to the Rams' field goal at the end of the first half. Gervais controlled the game in the second half, completing 10-of-12 passes after the break for 149 yards.
Gervais' favorite target was sophomore Andrew Ogletree who made six catches for 81 yards, all of which came in the second half. Junior Jason Moore made four catches for 76 yards while Airion Kosak made one catch, a 52-yard touchdown.
Chukwuneke finished with five tackles, an interception, and pass breakup while Aaron Ivory, Justice Jenkins, and Johnny Hopkins each had three stops. Ivory had an interception and a tackle-for-loss while Hopkins had a half tackle-for-loss.
Findlay will take on the Assumption Greyhounds next Saturday, Nov. 25 in Worcester, Mass. The Greyhounds finished the regular season 9-1 and ranked No. 15 in the country.