Saturday, December 12, 2009
This is a story that many people reading this site may not care too much about, but the story of the 2004 Shippensburg Red Raiders is one that I will always hold near to my heart for as long as I live. You may be thinking to yourself, "Who cares about a division two college team?"
Quite simply, I do.
The 2004 Shippensburg football team had many similarities to the 1998 West Chester East High School football team that was lead by none other than Matt Schaub. Shippensburg had gone 8-3 in 2003 and seemed to have all the right ingredients heading into the 2004 football season. Shippensburg ended their 2003 campaign with wins at pass happy East Stroudsburg, 40-14, and at home against California (Pa.), 35-0.
For Shippensburg, 2004 was the time to shine.
Entering the PSAC's 2004 season Shippensburg was tabbed as the early favorite to win the conference and make the playoffs. It all started with a win at home against Kutztown. the heavily favored Red Raiders lead just 7-0 at halftime but the offense exploded in the second half. when all was said and done the Red Raiders defeated the Golden Bears 35-0.
After a second straight victory in the Great Valley Classic against Shepherd and a dominating performance against Bloomsburg the message had been sent loud and clear. Shippensburg was the beast of the northeast region.
The Road Trip
With the Red Raiders off to an impressive 3-0 start the Red Raiders took to the road for their first game of the season. They would not be without their most passionate fans.
As a member of the Shippensburg University Marching Band's low brass section (trombone) I had been fortunate enough to come across plenty of memorable experiences. In 2003 the low brass section continued a great tradition of organizing a road trip for an away game on a weekend in which the band was off when we went to Shepherd for the season opener. We had invited the rest of the band members to join us and it was a rousing success. So the following season when Shippensburg traveled to Millersville for a road game we could not pass up a sequel.
The Red Raiders had their most vocal fans on hand once again as Shippensburg put 28 points on the scoreboard in the second quarter en route to a crushing victory, 49-27. Deep down inside I know that head coach Rocky Reese and the rest of the team appreciated our support.
IUP...SUCKS! Or not...
I tried my hardest to get my fellow band members to develop a hatred for IUP. You see, IUP was the Ohio State of the PSAC, at least in my eyes. I knew that Shippensburg had seen far too many players go through the program without beating IUP, and I wanted people to get pumped up for the game. So I got the low brass section to follow me lead in chants of "IUP...SUCKS!" every day of the week leading up to the big game.
It soon caught on through the whole band. You have to love a rivalry.
But IUP to this day will not recognize Shippensburg as a tue rival as they had little problem with Shippensburg from year to year. This game was unique in that Ship was actually making a return trip to Indiana, Pennsylvania. IUP had hosted Shippensburg in 2003 and came away with a victory by a score of 18-7 (his knee was down - you know what I'm talking about).
In 2004 Shippensburgh appeared to have the upper hand from top to bottom for the first time in a decade and a half against IUP, but IUP playing a home was a different animal. No team could stall the high powered running game of Shippensburg like IUP, and IUP handed Shippensburg their only loss of the regular season, 17-0.
West Chester bragging rights: Part One
Growing up in West Chester I obviously was looking forward to the regular season finale between Shippensburg and West Chester. Of course many of my high school friends went to West Chester so we had bragging rights on the line. But the teams themselves had plenty riding on the game too!
The winner of the regular season finale would receive a top two seed in the division two playoffs as well as a bye week, while the loser would likely be playing the following week.
It was a game that lived up to the hype.
The top two teams in the PSAC (forget about East Stroudsburg!) battled to a tie game at halftime after West Chester scored a late touchdown and a two point conversion before the half. Each team scored again in the third quarter and went scoreless in the fourth quarter. Shippensburg had been held to a field goal attempt on the first possession of the overtime so all West Chester's talented offense had to do was score a touchdown.
Shippensburg intercepted the first pass on the first play of West Chester's possession, sealing the bye week and the top seed in the northeast region of the playoffs.
West Chester bragging rights: Part Two
Two weeks later West Chester made the trip to Shippensburg and they were thinking revenge. The jam-packed, and rain soaked, crowd at Seth Grove Stadium was more than ready for the post season, but the team was late to arrive.
West Chester scored on a 61-yard pass early in the game to silence the home crowd, but Shippensburg responded with a 30 yard pass of their own. The second quarter though would be all West Chester as the Rams reached halftime up 27-7.
The Red Raiders fought back furiously with a late third quarter surge and eventually took the lead, 28-27, in the fourth quarter with five minutes left in the game. West Chester's Osagie Osunde, who I had seen plenty of in high school, struck against my team once again with a one yard run for a touchdown with 1:25 remaining. The score gave West Chester the lead and they sealed the victory when Tony Gomez was intercepted on Shippensburg's final possession.
In that one game I had heard Seth Grove Stadium reached it's loudest, and quietest, that I had witnessed in five seasons, in the span of about 15 minutes.
Today memories of the 2004 season continue to flow for me on a weekly basis. John Kuhn has moved on from Shippensburg to finally reach a full-time spot with the Green Bay Packers. Kuhn had spent time in the NFL on practice squads for the Steelers and Packers. He had seen some minimal time with the Steelers and since then has come along with the Packers.
I try to check out the Packers box score on the off-chance that Kuhn had scored any touchdowns. Unfortunately he is used primarily as a blocker at the fullback position for Aaron Rodgers. Nevertheless, I always look for #30 in green and white whenever the Packers are on TV.
Brent Grimes went from special teams star for Shippensburg to defensive back for the Atlanta Falcons. I particularly enjoyed this weekend's Eagles game but could not help but feel bittersweet when I saw Grimes get beat by Reggie freaking Brown.
For Shippensburg the 2004 football season was a magical year that ultimately ended before the story was finished. I hope that some trombone player in the Shippensburg Uiversity Marching Band found a similar feeling in following this year's team. Much like the 2004 team the 2009 Shippensburg Red Raiders won the PSAC only to be bumped out of the playoffs by the team they defeated two weeks before.
Shippensburg was a favorite in 2004 but a surprise in 2009. The team has since switched divisions in the PSAC and Ship fans can only hope that the program is turning a corner and becoming a true "Beast of the East."
I invite anyone who followed that 2004 team to share their memories in the comments section below.