FOR THE SECOND time ever, and first time in 9 years, West Chester is in the Division II semifinals.
The Golden Rams, who last week had set a program record for wins in a season, improved to 13-1 with a 28-7 quarterfinal win on Saturday at previously unbeaten Shepherd. They will now play at Lenoir-Rhyne (12-1), which beat North Alabama (10-3, coached by one-time Temple coach Bobby Wallace), 42-39. The game will be in Hickory, N.C.
In 2004, the Rams lost in the semis at eventual national champion Valdosta State, 45-21. That team also won a home playoff game and then two on the road.
The other semifinal is Grand Valley State (12-2) at Northwest Missouri State (13-0), which was second in the final poll and is the highest remaining seed. West Chester is 15th, Lenoir-Rhyne 13th and GVS 22nd. The Rams already won in the second round at No. 10 Bloomsburg, which had handed them their only loss here on Nov. 9. Shepherd was No. 6.
The championship game is Dec. 21 in Florence, Ala., home of North Alabama.
West Chester, which led 14-7 at the half, returned two interceptions for touchdowns within a span of 17 seconds in the fourth quarter. First Al-Hajj Shabazz took a fourth-down pass back 76 yards with just over 6 minutes left. Then, on the next play from scrimmage, Brandon Pepper ran one in from 35 yards. He also got a pick on Shepherd's next snap at the Shepherd 45 and WC - which usually gets it done with offense - ran out the clock.
The Rams became only the third team to get more than 300 yards on Shepherd.
Northwest Missouri State won the title in 1998 and '99, and made it back to the final 5 straight years starting in 2005. It lost the first four times, twice to Grand Valley (2005 and '06) before finally beating GV in '09. GVS, which has been coached by Brian Kelly and Brady Hoke, also won it all in 2002 and '03 after getting to the final in '01.