By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
The Concord Mountain Lions’ passing game dried up when quarterback Brian Novak suffered a concussion in a game 21 days ago in Urbana, Ohio.
Last Saturday, the Concord aerial game accounted for nine total yards in a 12-3 double-overtime win in Charleston.
CU head coach Garin Justice found some statistics that may make the team’s fans feel a little more comfortable as the Mountain Lions prepare for this afternoon’s game in Athens with UVa-Wise.
“If you rush for more yardage than the other team, you win 86 percent of your football games,” he said. “If you win the turnover battle, you win 90 percent of your games. ... If you win the total passing offense battle, you win 40 percent of your games.”
By forcing three turnovers and out-rushing UC by 16 yards, Concord met the first two criteria, and managed do win one-dimensionally.
“We pushed it to the limit,” Justice said. “But we knew if we played mistake-free football (and) play behind our defense ... we wanted to play those odds.”
That defense is third in NCAA Division II in points allowed per game, 11.9, and fourth in total defense.
Justice said, “We talk every week about how great our defense is. Saturday was another example of how great they are for us.”
Shawn Billups Jr. made an interception late in the fourth quarter to squash UC’s attempt to win in regulation.
Calvinaugh Jones scored from 12 yards out in the first portion of the second overtime to give Concord its lead. Andy Ellington missed the extra point.
Charleston ran eight plays in their second overtime stanza, three of them from inside the four-yard line, but Concord’s defense held. The Golden Eagles had the ball inches away from the goal line on third down, when they fumbled trying for a handoff.
“The ball rolls around on a third-down play and it ends up being fourth and 11 and we wind up making the stop,” Justice said. Gary Saylor broke up a desperation pass on the final play to claim the win.
“We had a little luck, but also there was a lot of skill involved as far as putting ourselves into position to make that play,” the coach said.
Riyahd Richardson forced a fumble and recovered two loose balls at Charleston. Jake Lilly led the tackling statistic again with 12. Saylor and Ervin Moore each had 10 tackles. The Golden Eagles averaged 3.7 yards per play and generated just 288 yards on offense.
Russell Bailey stood out on Concord’s special teams, blocking a punt for the second straight game.
Jones rushed for 104 yards on 30 carries Saturday, reaching triple digits on Concord’s last offensive play. The Athenians, who generated just 10 first downs, ran the ball 57 times and netted 189 yards.
The Mountain Lions tried three passes and completed one. Ben Nester ran the offense for most of the game, gaining 56 yards rushing. Novak saw spot playing time at quarterback in two-minute-drill situations in the second and fourth quarters.
Justice said, “Novak was medically cleared, but he just seemed jittery all week. Medically, we didn’t feel great about throwing him to the wolves, yet. ... And just the fact that Ben had so much success the week before.”
“Brian did a good job, and the good thing about that is, Brian’s got some confidence now, coming into this week.”
In addition to his missed extra point, Ellington was 1 for 5 in field-goal attempts.
“I think more than anything was the fact that he had an early miss, and he let that get in his head and it kind of snowballed downhill,” Justice said.
“That wind was swirling, too. Their kicker had some troubles; they had a couple of missed field goals as well. It was a tough day to be a kicker, but he’s (Ellington has) got to be better. He knows he’s got to be better.”
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UVa-Wise (1-7) picked up its first win of the year last week, defeating winless West Virginia State 18-10. The Highland Cavaliers are giving up 39.4 points per game while scoring 9.8 on average. The team from Wise passes for 221 yards per outing and averages about 55 yards in its run game.
Concord (6-2) puts up 23.3 points per game on average.
“They only have one win right now, but (if) you watch the film, they’re better than one win,” Justice said.” They have two wideouts that are as good as anyone in the league. They’ve got some guys who are making some plays.”
“UVa-Wise is a team we have to respect and to prepare for.”
He added, “We’re a more talented football team. We should be able to line up and take care of business — as long as we do the preparation, as long as we do the work.”
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The Mountain Lions are 10th in the season’s first NCAA Division II Super Region One rankings released earlier this week. The top six teams from each of the four super regions make the playoffs.
Concord is among four teams with 6-2 records in the top 10. Undefeated teams occupy the top three spots: West Chester (Pa.), Shepherd and Bloomsburg (Pa.).
Justice would not engage in any speculation, with three games left, about Concord’s ability to make it to the top six.
“The only thing we can control are the games we play, and we play UVa-Wise this weekend,” he said. “We’re not in this discussion if we lose to UVa-Wise.”
Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. at Callaghan Stadium-Shott Field.
— Contact Tom Bone at