By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Something will have to give this afternoon.
The top team in the new Mountain East Conference in total defense, Concord University, takes on the MEC leader in total offense, Urbana University, in a showdown in central Ohio.
“They’re a solid football team, and people have struggled with them,” said Concord head coach Garin Justice. “We’ve got to bring our ‘A-game’ to pull out a victory.”
The Mountain Lions (4-1, 3-0 MEC) are tops in NCAA Division II in pass defense following their 34-17 homecoming win against Fairmont State.
Mike Carey, who had two interceptions and six tackles last Saturday, is the current conference defensive player of the week.
The Blue Knights of Urbana (3-2, 3-1) counter with quarterback D.J. Mendenhall, who has thrown for 1,665 yards and 17 touchdowns in five games.
Urbana averages 33 points and 471 yards of offense per outing, while Concord has been allowing opponents an average of 9.8 points and 229 yards.
The Athenians rank second nationally in total defense, third in turnovers gained and fourth in points allowed.
“First and foremost, we’ve played great defense,” Justice said about Concord’s season so far.
“Offensively, we sputtered a little bit early on, but you’re seeing growth every single week. You’re starting to see that run game really establish itself, and Brian (Novak at quarterback) is continuing to slowly develop.”
“Special-teams wise, I wouldn’t trade anyone for (Andy) Ellington and (Andrew) Huska. Ellington’s hit two 48-yarders the past two weeks,” Justice said. The two 48-yard field goals set a new school record.
Last Saturday, Concord trailed a squad that Justice called “a solid Fairmont football team” 14-10 at halftime in a physical game on a hot day.
The coach said, “Even though we were down at halftime, we never lost the look in our eye ... . We kept the faith, just playing the next play and letting the game take care of itself, and eventually Fairmont State wore down and we were able to get a win.”
Previewing the matchup with Urbana, Justice said, “Going into the year, and statistically, they have the best quarterback in the league in D.J. Mendenhall, (a) good football player. They put a lot on him, a lot of what they do revolves around him.”
“Defensively, they have an odd-stack scheme that is very aggressive as far as the way they blitz and move. We’ve got to do a good job of picking that up and responding to that.”
The defensive alignment is similar to that employed by West Virginia University when Justice was a starting offensive lineman.
He said, “I feel confident in us, picking it up. I went up against that defensive system when I was at West Virginia. I think that gives us an advantage that most teams don’t have, and we’ve had a good history of blocking it.”
“But they’re a good football team, and we’ve got to show up and make plays. At the end of the day, it’s going to be, can my guys block their guys, or can my defensive guys beat their offensive guys on a block.”
“In the past, we’ve fared well versus odd-stack teams — Charleston and Fairmont, last year.”
He said, “They are a younger defense — which matches up, because we’re a younger offense.”
For the third straight week, the same set of five offensive linemen is scheduled to start for Concord. Justice said, “Up front, we’re getting better every day. I’m always slow to give those guys compliments, because I coach them, but they’re doing a nice job.”
Against Fairmont State, he said, “We ran for 238 (yards) on the ground as a team. We didn’t allow any sacks. That’s as good as you can ask for. We had 400 yards of total offense.”
“The thing that’s nice, about (the linemen), is that they seem to want more success, they seem to not want to settle for (the status quo).”
It will be homecoming at Urbana, and the Blue Knights have won 10 of their past 11 homecoming games prior to the creation of the Mountain East last summer.
In his three homecoming starts, Mendenhall has thrown for 780 yards and nine touchdowns with no interceptions, and run for 241 yards and three scores.
Concord sophomore running back Calvinaugh Jones has run for 440 yards this season, fifth most in the conference. Receiver Tiko Henderson caught five passes for 109 yards last Saturday; he’s now fifth in the MEC in receiving yards per game.
Jake Lilly’s 12 tackles last weekend increased his career total to 312, five away from overtaking Mike Spradling for second most in Concord history.
With that kind of firepower on his team, Justice said about today’s matchup, “We’ve got to make more plays than they do, and really be smart and take care of the football.”
— Contact Tom Bone at