Football falls to No. 11 Shepherd in NCAA Playoffs

The New Haven football team lost in the first round of the NCAA Playoffs on Saturday to No. 11 Shepherd University 16-13, coming up just short of extending their season another week.

The Chargers got the scoring started early, as quarterback Connor Degenhardt got the ball moving in the air. On the second play of the game, he connected with wide receiver Dev Holmes for a 35-yard catch over the Shepherd defensive back, before two more passes got New Haven within the Rams’ 10-yard line. A seven yard rush from running back Christopher Ais placed the ball at the one, which gave Degenhardt three chances to sneak the ball in. On fourth down and their last opportunity, he crossed the line to put New Haven up 6-0.

After a pair of stalled drives from both sides, Shepherd’s standout RB Ronnie Brown broke through the defense for a 61-yard rushing touchdown, giving the Rams a 7-6 lead. This score held until the end of the first half, as each side flexed their talented defenses to keep each other off the board.

Shepherd came out firing in the second half, drilling a field goal on their first drive to extend their lead to four. Then, after a three-and-out from New Haven, Brown once again shot past the New Haven defense for another touchdown, this time a 47-yard rush.

With a 16-6 deficit, New Haven’s offense wasn’t able to get into a rhythm under constant pressure from the strong Shepherd defensive line. Finally, with just over five minutes remaining in the game, New Haven began to string together an extended offensive drive.

After a pair of short passes, Degenhardt found WR Terrell Ford for a 21-yard gain to get New Haven across midfield. Then, a defensive pass interference penalty was called on an attempted pass to Holmes, moving New Haven to the 14-yard line. After another penalty moved the ball to the two, Degenhardt found tight end Dante DeLorenzo for a two-yard touchdown, cutting the lead to just four.

With timeouts left, New Haven kicked the ball to the Rams looking for one more stop. After a pair of big stops made it third-and-eight with two minutes left, Shepherd’s QB Tyson Bagent showed why he is widely considered to be the best quarterback in Division II. He evaded the swarming New Haven defensive line, stepping up in the pocket and delivering a perfect 43-yard pass on the run to seal the game for Shepherd.

The Rams went on to kneel the ball and hang on to the 16-13 win.

Offensively, Degenhardt finished with 207 passing yards and a passing and rushing touchdown, while Ais ran for 77 yards. Ford was the team’s leading receiver, finishing with 74 yards, while Holmes added 60 of his own. Shepherd was led by a career day from Brown, who finished with 223 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

The defense was led by an 11 tackle performance from defensive back Devonte Myles in his final game at New Haven. Linebacker Joe Vitale tallied eight tackles, while DBs Khyon Fitzpatrick and Giye Jenkins had seven of their own.

The loss ends New Haven’s stellar season, as they finished 8-3 (6-1 NE-10), capping off the second straight year that the team made it into the NCAA Playoffs. Shepherd improves to 11-1 (7-0 PSAC) and will now host Slippery Rock in the second round.

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