KUTZTOWN, Pa. -- Big plays proved to be a difference maker all day for Shepherd, but none bigger than a Tyson Bagent to Marlon Cook 70-yard touchdown pass with two minutes remaining that broke a 35-all tie and sent the Rams to a 42-35 PSAC East victory over the Kutztown University football team on Family Day Saturday afternoon at Andre Reed Stadium.
The highly anticipated showdown between division titans did not disappoint. Kutztown came in having defeated Shepherd on the Rams' home field during the regular season in each of the last two seasons, but Shepherd exacted a measure of revenge with last December's 30-28 last-second win in the NCAA Division II quarterfinals.
Reigning Harlon Hill Trophy winner Bagent was a masterful 30-of-41 for 456 yards and three touchdowns, though the Bears' own Donny Blaine (Jefferson Township, Pa./North Pocono) dug deep into his arsenal to match his quarterback counterpart. Blaine surpassed 300 yards passing for the first time, setting new career-highs in completions (25), attempts (34), yards (390), and touchdowns (three).
Blaine and the Bears were on the move early, a 22-yard pass to Jerome Kapp (Barto, Pa./Boyertown) and a 27-yard strike to Kurtis Ravenel Jr. (Carlisle, Pa./Carlisle) setting KU (2-2, 0-1 PSAC East) up deep in Shepherd territory. Darryl Davis-McNeil (Roslyn, Pa./Abington) found space up the middle and burst into the end zone for his sixth rushing touchdown of the season and a 7-0 Golden Bear lead just over five minutes in.
Kutztown's defense did a tremendous job holding Bagent and the Ram (4-0, 1-0 PSAC East) offense in check throughout the first half. Shepherd didn't score an offensive point in the opening 30 minutes but remained in a heated battle thanks to a pair of momentum-shifting plays by its defense and special teams.
On KU's second offensive possession, Klayton Batten intercepted Blaine and returned it 28 yards for a score to knot the game at seven.
Blaine recovered to connect with Kapp for a pair of second-quarter TDs, first locating his 6-foot-3 target down the left sideline for a 22-yard score and later a long catch and run that went in the books as a 50-yard TD and a 21-7 advantage for the Maroon and Gold.
Before the Bears could even celebrate their two-score lead, Shepherd's Ronnie Brown returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. Kutztown's 21-14 lead held to the break with Kapp bringing in six passes for 126 yards in the opening half.
Shepherd unleashed its offense in the second half and while the Bears had plenty of answers to go round-for-round much of the way, the Rams eventually prevailed.
A 13-play, 75-yard drive by the visitors to open the second half ended with a 6-yard touchdown pass from Bagent to Ryan Beach that tied the game at 21.
Shepherd was poised to go in front a short time later as Bagent hit wideouts Beach for 35 yards and Cook for 34 along with tight end Brian Walker for 31, moving the Rams inside the KU five. On 3rd and 1 from the KU one, Amani Justice (Salem, N.J./Salem) and Tyler Whary (Hereford, Pa./Upper Perkiomen) stuffed Brown for a two-yard loss. Kyle Sapp (Westampton, N.J./Rancocas Valley Regional) broke through the line on fourth down and sacked Bagent back at the 15 to end the threat.
As the third quarter drew to a close, Kutztown threatened. Freshman wide receiver Trevor Amorim (Slatington, Pa./Northern Lehigh) made his first career catch for 12 yards to keep the drive alive on 3rd and 8 and Austin Moyer (Souderton, Pa./Souderton), a converted offensive lineman in his first year playing tight end, hauled in an 18-yard bullet from Blaine for his first career catch to put the Bears at the Shepherd five.
Blaine dropped a tear over the trenches on the first play of the fourth quarter, tight end and Berks County native Alex MacKenzie (Sinking Spring, Pa./Conrad Weiser) bringing in his first career TD to put the Golden Bears back in front 28-21.
Bagent answered with an 8-yard TD run just under four minutes later. With 6:15 remaining, the Rams' QB found fullback Michael McCook out in the flat for a 3-yard TD pass and Shepherd had its first lead of the afternoon, 35-28.
Kutztown's offense went back to work in crunch time, Blaine linking up with Davis-McNeil twice for 20 yards, Jake Novak (Manheim, Pa./Manheim Central) for a stunning 35-yard catch between a pair of defenders and Ravenel Jr. along the far sideline for a 14-yard pickup down to the Shepherd four. Davis-McNeil carried it in from three yards out for his second TD of the day and seventh rushing TD of the season to tie it once again, 35-35, with 2:38 to go.
That proved to be plenty of time for Shepherd's acclaimed QB. Kutztown was one play away from getting off the field, forcing a 3rd and 5 from the Shepherd 30, but Bagent went deep down the right sideline. CJ Brown (Coatesville, Pa./Coatesville) attempted to make a play on the ball, but it sailed into the hands of Cook, who took it the rest of the way uncontested for a 70-yard score and a 42-35 Ram lead with under two minutes remaining.
The Bears got back into the red zone in the final minute, but an intentional grounding penalty on 3rd and 5 put KU in a dire position facing 4th and 18 from the Ram 33. Kyle Smith got through for a strip sack and Nathan Muhle recovered, allowing Shepherd to run out the clock and snap the Bears' 15-game PSAC East regular season winning streak, which dated back to 2018.
Kapp finished with eight catches for a career-high 170 yards as KU outgained Shepherd 493-467. Ravenel Jr. (3 for 66) and Novak (4 for 63) topped 60 yards receiving. Davis-McNeil set another career mark for carries, hauling the mail 27 times for 67 yards. Jordan Davis (Franklin, N.J./Saint Joseph Metuchen) added 10 rushes for 57 yards.
Kutztown limited the Rams to just 11 yards on the ground, but with Bagent's arm doing most of the work, they didn't need the run game. Cook was the prime recipient with nine catches for 212 yards and the game-winning TD. Walker brought in seven passes for 89 yards, while Beach and Kenny Edelin each had 57 yards.
Dewayne Grantham was a menace defensively for SU with a game-high 16 tackles (seven solo) and 1.5 tackles for loss (TFL). Smith registered two sacks and 3.5 TFL, and Keyshawn Hailey had 10 tackles and a pass breakup.
Whary had a pair of quarterback hurries, a TFL and shared the team lead in total tackles (eight) along with Antaun Lloyd (Ambler, Pa./Wissahickon) and Amani Justice (Salem, N.J./Salem). Kam Wolfe (Reading, Pa./Governor Mifflin) collected six tackles and broke up a pass, and Cody Scherer (Lehighton, Pa./Lehighton) made five tackles.
Prior to the game, former Golden Bear great John Mobley was recognized during the coin toss. Mobley, the 15th overall pick in the first round of the 1996 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos, went on to become an All-Pro linebacker and two-time Super Bowl champion in eight seasons with Denver following his storied KU career. He was honored at a postgame ceremony with his college degree, induction into the KU Athletics Hall of Fame and the President's Medal.
Kutztown travels to East Stroudsburg next Saturday looking to bounce back and grab its first PSAC East win. Kickoff is at 1:05 p.m.