By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
The Concord University football team left Athens on Friday to travel to Notre Dame for a football game.
No, not that Notre Dame.
This afternoon the Mountain Lions will play Notre Dame College of South Euclid, Ohio, for the first time in football. Both are members of the new Mountain East Conference.
The away game with the Falcons of Notre Dame (4-5, 3-4 MEC) has the makings of a “trap game” for Concord (7-2, 6-1), in the words of CU head coach Garin Justice.
The Mountain Lions host Shepherd (8-0) next Saturday, and the conference crown could be at stake — but only if Concord beats Notre Dame.
“This week’s the semifinals,” Justice said. “If we want to play a championship game, we have to win a semifinal game.”
“We all want to play the Shepherd game. Everyone wants to play the Shepherd game. My guys aren’t allowed to say ‘the Shepherd game’ or ‘Shepherd,’ aloud.”
“The point we drove home on Monday ... was, for us to play that game that you guys so want to play, you have to win the semifinals. If not, it doesn’t mean anything. It’s an exhibition.”
He added, “The guys have done a great job of preparing, so far.”
Notre Dame, which started playing football three years ago, deploys the leading rusher and leading tackler in the Mountain East.
Pedro Powell has gained 1,205 yards, gaining 5.2 yards per carry on average, to complement an attack that averages 264.9 pas sing yards per game. Linebacker Hayden Davis tops the league in tackles with 98, of which 37 are solo stops.
“They’re two calls from being 6-3,” Justice said. “They can beat us. They have the leading rusher in the league. It’ll be a good challenge for us.”
“Of course, we’ve got to try to stop Pedro Powell. That’s got to be our No. 1 goal. As a defense, we want to take away the No. 1 thing an offense does best, and that’s (for the Falcons, to) run Pedro Powell.”
The Concord defense has been up to the task most of the season. The stoppers are now ranked first in NCAA Division II in points allowed per game (11.2), second in first downs allowed (125), third in total defense (256.2 yards allowed per game) and fourth in passing yards allowed per game (146.2).
Senior safety Josh Clark earned one of the Beyond Sports Network national player of the week honors after picking off two passes last Saturday. Fellow senior Jake Lilly is third in total tackles in the MEC with 96 stops, including 35 solo tackles.
Notre Dame has averaged 30.8 points per game but is allowing 33.9. Quarterback Ray Russ has completed 59 percent of his passes, 19 of them for touchdowns.
Concord’s offense came alive in last Saturday’s 44-6 domination of UVa-Wise. Brian Novak passed for 271 yards and Calvinaugh Jones ran for 115 yards, 83 percent of CU’s rushing total for the day. Tiko Henderson caught six passes for 109 yards and a touchdown.
“We’re growing up,” Justice said about the Concord offense, which has no senior starter. “They’re developing, they’re getting better as the year goes on. It’s great to see.”
For the third time this year, kicker Andy Ellington hit a school-record 48-yard field goal.
Andrew Huska leads the league in punting (41.5 yards per punt) and has a conference-best 25 touchbacks as a kickoff specialist.
“We did what we were supposed to do last week,” the coach said. “We went out and took care of business. All three phases played a solid football game.”
Asked if the Mountain Lions were coming together at the end of the regular season, Justice said, “We’re cautiously optimistic.”
Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.