By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
The Concord football team gave Shepherd its best shot on Saturday afternoon. It just wasn’t quite good enough.
With a performance reminiscent of Concord’s recipe for success this season, Shepherd (10-0) dominated time of possession by almost eight minutes and drove the football against a top-caliber defense to take a 41-33 win at Callaghan Stadium-June O. Shott Field.
Shepherd completes a perfect regular season and awaits the playoffs as the No. 7 team in NCAA Division II. Concord (8-3, 7-2 Mountain East), which would have wrested the conference crown from the Rams with a victory, ended its 2013 campaign.
“They beat us at our own game,” said Concord head coach Garin Justice. “It came down to where our personnel was just a little weaker (than theirs). At the end of the day, Shepherd made a couple of more plays than we did.”
Veteran Shepherd head coach Monte Cater said, “We had to battle. Concord’s always physical and they play hard. ... There was nothing easy about today.”
The teams with the best defenses in the league were practically even in yards allowed. Shepherd gained 409 yards and Concord had one yard less.
Shepherd allowed 12 more points than they had given up in any previous game this year.
Cater said, “Defensively, we gave up a few more points than we have been (11.2 per game prior to Saturday), but they gave them up to a good football team.”
In a competition between a pair of red-shirt freshmen at quarterback, Concord’s Brian Novak was 17 for 28 for 239 yards and two touchdowns. Speherd’s Jeff Ziemba was 14 of 15 for 231 yards and three scores — all of them by receiver Justin Ford.
“It was a big day,” Ford said. “We knew that Concord plays us hard, no matter what the record is between the teams. ... We (were) an undefeated team coming in here, and we’re leaving as one.”
Concord senior linebacker Jake Lilly again led the Mountain Lions with 12 tackles, four solo. He hurt the MCL in his right knee on the second play of the game and was hobbled afterward.
Lilly said, “I was in on the tackle, and ... an offensive player came down on my knee.” Afterward, he said, “It was like playing with one leg. I mean, pulling guards, fullbacks, I didn’t have no power to hold them. ... The plays that I had to make, I just wrapped up and used my body weight to pull them down.”
Defensive lineman Will Greathouse had nine stops, two of them for loss of yardage. One was a quarterback sack.
“They were a great opponent,” Greathouse said, “but my guys played hard. We played hard, the whole game.”
“There was never a doubt in my mind, until that clock hit triple-zeroes, that we were not winning that game. From the time we stepped on the field, my mindset was that we were winning that game.”
Shepherd went 12 plays on their opening series and scored on a 6-yard run by Jabre Lolley. Concord’s Keith Ferguson blocked the point-after kick and teammate Josh Clark returned the ball to the other end zone to start the game off with a 6-2 score.
Ford tallied his first touchdown on a 31-yard pass in the first quarter, and added a 45-yard score in the last minute of the first half as Shepherd took a 27-9 halftime edge.
The Mountain Lions got their first touchdown in the second quarter on a trick pass from tight end Dalton Brindo to Davon McGill that went for 63 yards.
Justice said, “We knew Shepherd was a great defense. ... It’s tough to drive the field against a great defense — much like our football team.”
“We had to try to generate some trick-type plays,” he said, “whatever it takes to win.”
Ben Nester and punter Andrew Huska were each 1 for 1 passing, surprising the Shepherd defenders in unexpected situations.
In the third period, Concord put together 10 straight points, on a 40-yard field goal by Andy Ellington and a 3-yard pass from Novak to Shaun Workinger. Novak had to scramble out of the pocket and his fullback worked his way open in the end zone to snag the pass and pull CU within eight points, 27-19.
Concord trimmed the margin to eight twice more in the fourth quarter.
A roughing-the-passer penalty on Shepherd gave Concord a reprieve on a third-down play. Novak fired the ball to receiver Tiko Henderson, who outjumped a pair of defenders for a 33-yard score.
Novak said, “I gave him a jump ball in the end zone, and Tiko went up over two guys and grabbed it. I’ve got all the confidence in the world in those guys (the receivers) going up and getting it. They always fight for me.”
After Ford’s third touchdown catch wth 1:41 left in the game, Novak moved Concord down the field through his passing — then ran seven yards for the game’s final TD with 44 seconds on the clock.
Shepherd’s William McKenzie recovered an onside kick to secure the win.
Justice said, “They had us penned in, in the first half. ... We were able to withstand it, but I think it took something out of our defense, that we were on the field for so many plays.”
“The third quarter, we basically had our way with them, until the very end of it. The guys did a good job.”
Justice said, “It wasn’t a good day, but man, did they fight. It just seemed like, every time our back was against the wall, we kept making it close, we kept fighting, and that shows the spirit of the team.”
“It’s not a win, and I would be more happy if we won the football game, but ... I know all these guys, they busted their tails to get where they are. They put their heart and soul into this game.”
“They’re hurting right now, and they should be, because they put so much into it. But we’re going to keep getting better. We’re going to keep coming back stronger, because that’s who we are. That’s what we’re about.”
Calvinaugh Jones led Concord’s running game with 73 yards on 18 attempts. Henderson caught five balls for 113 yards.
For Shepherd, Lolley had a net of 103 yards and two scores. Ford racked up 108 yards on four catches. C.J. Davis had 109 total yards on four kickoff returns.
Lilly said about playing a national powerhouse in his last collegiate game, “We wouldn’t want it no other way. We want the best. ... The time came, and we showed up today, fired up and ready to go. We just had our ups and downs the last couple of days.”
“We played hard. Everybody played hard. It was a good game. I enjoyed it.”
Lilly said, “I’ve been blessed, a blessed ride. It’s fun playing with these guys. I wish we could have (gone) out with a ring, but God had other plans.”
“I mean, if that’s the worst thing that’s going to happen to us in life, we’re going to have a blessed life. It’s just a game. But it’s a fun game. ... I had a great fellowship with these players, and I enjoyed every minute of it.”
— Contact Tom Bone at