At least for one night, Brandon Sheperd was the greatest show on turf.
When told of his stats – nine catches for 114 yards and three runs for 30 yards with three combined touchdowns – Sheperd said, “That’s not bad at all.”
“He’s pretty good,” Central coach Mark Goldenberg said before a long pause and a big smile. Even Ladue coach Mike Tarpey had to recognize Sheperd’s performance.
“He’s obviously a very talented player and lived up to the hype,” Tarpey said. “People have been talking about him and when your best players are making big plays, you’re going to have success.”
Throwing the ball to Sheperd was senior quarterback Cole Gorman, who was making his first varsity start. Gorman was 8-for-11 in the first half and finished the game going 11-of-16 for 152 yards and two touchdowns without a turnover.
“He’s smart and he makes great decisions,” Goldenberg said of Gorman. “He had a phenomenal game. He gets us into good plays. I trust him to do that and he did a great job.”
On Central’s second possession, the Colts drove to the Ladue 20 but were stopped short on a fourth-and-3. The Central defense forced a three-and-out and Antwon Hoard’s 26-yard punt return led to a 29-yard field goal by Zack Lazenby with 51 seconds remaining in the first quarter. Lazenby is the team’s third-string kicker, forced into duty because of injuries to the top two kickers. In all, the Colts were down five starters because of injuries or illness.
Ladue squandered its only two scoring opportunities of the first half. Not counting a backward pass to Shawn Whitley that gained 4 yards, Brandon Carr’s first completion of the game was a 42-yarder to Shawn Whitley early in the second quarter. Carr, a senior also making his first start, was erratic, going 15-of-33 for 161 yards and a score. Whitley finished with seven receptions for 56 yards.
Whitley’s 42-yarder set up the Rams at the 6, but as Deavin Edwards stretched for the goal line, the ball was knocked loose and went out of bounds in the end zone for a touchback.
“When you give a good team opportunities and don’t execute yourself, you’re not going to end up on the right side of the scoreboard,” Tarpey said.
On the ensuing drive, Central converted a fourth-and-3 from its own 27 with a fake punt. Gorman continued his precision for the rest of the drive and a 33-yard catch-and-run by Sheperd led to a 7-yard fade corner pass to Sheperd for a 10-0 lead with 8:05 remaining in the half.
Ladue’s standout receiver, Jehu Chesson, was targeted just once through the first 22 minutes and did not catch his first pass until 1:50 showed on the clock before halftime. That 7-yard gain helped the Rams drive the ball inside the 10, but Carr’s fourth-down dart to a diving Whitley fell short.
“Sometimes the ball bounces your way,” Goldenberg said. “We preach bend but don’t break because you never know what the next play will be.”
Chesson, defended by Devon Westley most of the night, finished with six catches for 95 yards. Two receptions – of 31 and 24 yards – came on the game’s final possession.
“They did a nice job on him,” Tarpey said. “We were trying to get the ball to all our kids, so the gameplan wasn’t to try to get the ball to Jehu nonstop, but they did some good things to try to take him away.”
The Rams stole the momentum early in the second half when Edwards made up for his goal-line fumble. Gorman, punting because of an injury to the normal punter, ran right and directly into the path of Edwards, who blocked the punt, scooped it up at the 7 and ran it in for the score.
“It’s a game of momentum,” Tarpey said. “At the high school level, it’s magnified.”
On their next possession, the Rams methodically pushed the ball downfield to the Central 4. After two false starts pushed Ladue back to the 14, Carr’s second-down pass to Chesson resulted in the go-ahead score.
It didn’t take the Colts long to respond. On the first play of the ensuing drive, Westley got to the outside on a sweep right and darted 65 yards down to the Ladue 5. A shoestring tackle only delayed the inevitable as Gorman scored on a quarterback sneak three plays later.
There was a scary incident following the extra point when Ladue sophomore David Moore, who has a heart condition and is prone to seizures, collapsed on the Parkway Central sideline. He was treated by medical staff for over 15 minutes before being carted off the field. Tarpey said Moore would be fine.
“It’s something we’ve monitored since he’s been in our program,” Tarpey said.
Sheperd then put his stamp on the game with a pair of touchdowns that Goldenberg described as “phenomenal.”
The first was a perfectly placed 17-yarder from Gorman that put the Colts up 24-14 with 5:21 remaining. Splitting a pair of defenders, the 6-foot-2 Sheperd snatched the ball out of the air.
“It was gorgeous,” Sheperd said of the pass. “I looked up and thought, ‘Yeah, I can get this.’”
Sheperd gave credit for the game’s final score – a 20-yard run that saw Sheperd make three “ankle-breaking” moves – to backup offensive lineman Adam Kirschbaum, who did not receive any reps with the starters last week and was only playing because of the injuries.
“Without five starters, other people stepped up and did a good job,” Sheperd said. “We pulled it out as a team.”