KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) Shepherd coach Monte Cater looked at the big picture after a humbling loss to Northwest Missouri State in the Division II national championship game.
''We've been able to meet the challenges all the way up to this time,'' Cater said. ''We played a heck of a good football team and they had a much better day that we did. But you go ahead and look at the year as a whole, and thank the seniors and try to get ready for next year. This is a punch in the stomach, but we've got a young football team and we're going to get ready for next year.''
Shepherd (13-1) was dominated in every aspect Saturday in the 34-7 loss, beginning with the first play from scrimmage when quarterback Jeff Ziemba bobbled a shotgun snap and Northwest Missouri State (14-0) recovered. Two plays later, the Bearcats were up 7-0.
''They didn't need any help, and we gave them some,'' Cater said. ''We couldn't have started any worse than we did. We never really could get into any rhythm, and they had a lot to do with that.''
Northwest Missouri won its fifth national title.
''When we had a chance to see them on film, they're a very, very good defense,'' he said. ''When you play against somebody of that caliber, it worked very well for them. We had trouble blocking them. I'm not going to say it's the best defense (he's ever faced), but they're sure as heck the best defense we've seen in a long time.''
Northwest Missouri keyed on Shepherd's running game, holding the Rams to an championship-game record minus-39 yards rushing, which put Ziemba under pressure all day.
''I think we had a really good game plan,'' Bearcats coach Adam Dorrel said after his defense held Shepherd to 97 yards of total offense. ''Shepherd's offense is really predicated on trying to run the football to set up their play-action. We knew it was going to be a challenge to stop their run, but the way we're built, systematically and athletically, our front seven does a great job of stopping the run.''
When Shepherd tried to pass, Northwest Missouri's defense teed off, sacking Ziemba 10 times.
''I didn't have much time,'' Ziemba said. ''They have four big guys and they're great at what they do. They did a great job of mixing up the defenses. That gave us a lot of trouble.''
A championship-game record of 16,181 watched the game at the home of Major League Soccer's Sporting Kansas City. The crowd was slanted heavily toward Northwest Missouri, 90 miles away in Maryville. But no one on the Shepherd side blamed the crowd.
Shepherd set a school record with 13 wins.
''It's a great feeling that we came out here and battled, but we lost,'' Ziemba said. ''For what this (season) has done, and seeing all of our fans travel all this way, it's a shame we had to go out this way.''
Wide receiver Billy Brown, who set a school record with his 10th touchdown of the season that gave Shepherd its only points of the game, said pretty much the same thing.
''Right now I don't feel real good,'' Brown said. ''But this game can't take away what we accomplished this season.''