SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. (AP) Backup quarterback Connor Jessop threw two touchdown passes and Shepherd survived two last-minute two-point conversion attempts to hold off Grand Valley State 34-32 in a Division II semifinal on Saturday.
Shepherd advances to Kansas City Dec. 19 for the NCAA Division II national championship to face the winner of the West Georgia-Northwest Missouri State semifinal.
This is the first D-II title appearance in school history for the Rams (13-0).
''The bottom line, in a game like this, of this magnitude, the first time ever, with a team that's still relatively young - I can't say enough about our kids,'' said Shepherd coach Monte Cater. ''I'm proud of them.''
Shepherd's Jeff Ziemba was injured the Rams' first possession and never returned. His status for the title game is unknown.
Jessop took over and tossed a 25-yard touchdown pass to Billy Brown to put the Rams on the board first.
Grand Valley State (12-3) came back to within two points late in the fourth quarter when Bart Williams capped a six-play, 75-yard drive with a 35-yard touchdown pass to Matt Williams, making the score 34-32. Williams' first two-point conversion pass failed but Shepherd was called for pass interference. Williams' second pass to Urston Smith fell incomplete with 54 seconds left, and the Rams recovered the onside kick.
Grand Valley was trying to reach the title game for the seventh time this century. The Lakers have won four titles.
''We just made too many mistakes, especially on special teams,'' said Grand Valley coach Matt Mitchell. ''When you're on the road in the semifinals, you can't make those mistakes.''
Trailing 14-13 at halftime, Grand Valley's Williams led the Lakers on an 11-play, 75-yard drive ending with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Smith. The Lakers Marquez Gollman picked off Jessop on the ensuing drive and returned it for a touchdown, quickly putting Grand Valley State up 17-14.
Alex Cross, who rushed for 157 yards, scored his second touchdown - a 36-yard rush - to start the fourth quarter for Shepherd. The PAT kick was blocked and Gollman returned it to keep Grand Valley within a point, 20-19.
Shepherd scored twice more - a Jessop 2-yard pass to Brown, and 29-yard interception return by CJ Davis for a quick 34-19 advantage.
But Williams led another long drive and hit Terrell Dorsey with a 3-yard TD pass, and after forcing a Shepherd punt, led the final scoring drive.