By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Good strategists want to keep their opponent guessing.
That helps explain why Concord University football coach Garin Justice isn’t committing to either Brian Novak or Ben Nester to start today’s game at quarterback against the University of Charleston in the state capital city.
Novak was held out of last Saturday’s 49-21 win due a concussion suffered on Oct. 12. In his place, Nester piloted a revamped triple-option offense to the third-most-productive rushing game in Concord history, 403 yards.
“Both of those guys are healthy,” Justice said on Wednesday. “Ben’s healthy; Brian’s fully cleared to play, and we expect both guys to play on Saturday.”
“I think we’re going to give them both shots and see which one we want to go with. But it’s hard for us not to play Nester (since) he had so much production on Saturday.”
Novak understands the decision-making process, Justice said. “Brian’s a competitor,” the coach said. “He wants to play all the time, but he’s also very team oriented. He knows that having Ben part of the offense ... gives us a spark. He understands the value of team.
“I want him to want the ball, but at the same time, he realizes the importance of being diverse, and being multiple, and giving the defense a lot to worry about.”
Last Saturday, Nester ran for 159 yards and Calvinaugh Jones added 109, with five other Mountain Lions running the ball. Nester tried only six passes and completed two for 73 yards.
Justice said, “We wanted to try to spread it out and to be multiple and diverse, and spread the field out horizontally, because we knew we couldn’t spread it vertically.”
Concord (5-2) had an amazing possession time of 42:23, including 92 percent of the fourth-quarter clock.
Justice said, “We’re really proud of that. That’s a stat that we value a lot more than other teams do.”
Both Concord and Charleston (4-3) are 4-1 in the Mountain East Conference this season, and both have coaches with WVU connections. Justice was a starting offensive tackle for the Mountaineers. UC head coach Pat Kirkland was on the WVU football coaching staff for five seasons.
The Golden Eagles have won their last two games. Last Saturday, in a 31-9 win over West Virginia State, quarterback Maurice Leak completed 20 of 28 passes for 221 yards and four touchdowns, earning him Mountain East offensive player of the week honors.
However, for the season, UC has averaged 169.7 yards weekly on the ground and 115 through the air.
Justice said, “Statistically, they haven’t thrown the ball very well, but they were able to do that last weekend. They run the ball very well, so we’ve got to stop the run,” Justice said. “I think our guys are motivated to contend with that.”
Concord is third in total defense this week among NCAA Division II schools, and second in preventing its opponents from converting on third downs.
Jake Lilly had 10 tackles against Wesleyan and forced his fifth fumble of the season, tying for the Division II lead again. Davon Marion grabbed his fourth interception of the year.
Punter Andrew Huska is 12th nationally with a 43.1-yard punting average.
On offense, Justice said, “We’ve got to take care of the football. We’ve got to be able to start and finish drives, and really control the ball. That’s who we are; that’s our philosophy; that’s who we’re always going to be.”
In the bigger picture, he said, “Our hope in the conference is to win out. Our worst-case scenario, if we win out, we tie for a share of the conference. Best case, other teams lose and we’re the outright champion.”
“That’s our vision ... to win a conference championship. What we need to do is to take care of Charleston. If we’re worried about the next couple of weeks down the road, we’re going to ultimately lose (to) Charleston, and all those other goals will be thrown out the window.”
“We have to worry about what we can control today.”
Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m. at UC Stadium-Laidley Field.
— Contact Tom Bone at email@example.com