Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

College Sports

September 8, 2012

Lions face tough task in No. 8 Winston-Salem State

ATHENS — Concord University is on the verge of breaking into the top 25, and the result of this afternoon’s game with eighth-ranked Winston-Salem State University should push the Mountain Lions one way or the other.

It’s the first meeting ever between CU and the Rams from North Carolina, who sit in the top 10 of the American Football Conference Association NCAA Division II poll. Concord had 46 points in this week’s poll, two points behind No. 25 Hillsdale (Mich.).

For the second time in two weeks, a team that won its conference in 2011 will visit Athens. The Rams were 13-1 last season, captured the crown of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, and finished third in Division II after losing in the national semifinals.

Concord head coach Garin Justice said, “This will make us a better team for conference play. ... It’s good to play quality out-of-conference opponents. We feel it’s going to help our strength of schedule.”

“If something happens, if we stump our toe — and it’s a long season, things can happen — now you’ll still see us considered as a playoff team because of our strength of schedule.”

“Our guys want to play the best. If we want to say, we’re among the top teams on the regional level or if we want to be considered nationally, we’ve got to play some of the better teams in the region ... and prove we belong on the national level.”

Kickoff is at 1 p.m. at Callaghan Stadium. Area high school bands will join with the CU musicians on Band Day, and Concord fans are being asked to wear the school colors on Maroon and Gray Day.

The Mountain Lions (1-0) allowed 21 first-half points, then scored 24 straight to beat Lenoir-Rhyne last Saturday. Cornerback Davon Marion and freshman kicker Andy Ellington were conference players of the week for their contributions to the victory.

“You make your biggest improvements between week one and week two,” Justice said. “Last year [after a 26-6 opening loss to Lenoir-Rhyne] I thought our coaching staff did a great job of rallying the troops, and the guys did a good job of responding.”

Last weekend “there were a lot of mistakes,” the coach said, “but it was a good win. There were a lot of good ‘coachable moments’ that we can use to get guys to improve.”

Concord senior quarterback Zack Grossi completed 24 of 41 passes for 242 yards and a touchdown. Randall Hawkins had 10 catches for 104 yards and Ansel Ponder had 69 yards on seven grabs, including a 17-yard touchdown that set up a tie game after Ellington’s point-after kick.

The running game contributed 92 yards, 88 of them by Chris Rodriguez. Andrew Gondor, in his first collegiate start at tailback, had 18 net yards on 12 carries.

Justice said, “Last week, we didn’t get the run started early. I don’t want to throw 40 times a game — but we will if we have to.”

He said the video of Gondor’s efforts showed, “On a couple of his runs, he was just an arm tackle away from breaking it. He’s getting there. We have faith, he’s going to do it this season. ... Chris got it going there.”

He considers both “starters at running back,” he said. “They’re both valuable parts of the offense. We’re going to lean on them this season.”

The defense, he added, is “a strength of our team. They’re very physically impressive to look at [and] they play the game the right way. ... We’re going to have to have that intensity of defense the rest of the season.”

Marion, returning after a season-and-a-half away from game action, forced a fumble, recovered it and scored to provide Concord its first points. He ended with 10 tackles, two for loss, and a game-sealing interception.

Justice said, “Davon had as good of a defensive game as you can have. It was nice to see No. 26 out there again.”

Spenser Jordan, who was inactive in 2011, led Concord’s defense statistically with eight solo tackles, including CU’s only sack, and three tackle assists.

Winston-Salem State (1-0) defeated UNC-Pembroke last Saturday 28-23.

The Rams’ balanced offense rushed for 188 yards — with Maurice Lewis gaining 134 yards on 27 carries — and passed for 190 via the arm of Kameron Smith, who went 15 for 22.

Lewis was named conference player of the week after the home win.

Justice said, “There’s a reason they won the Northeast Region I.” He said about Smith, “He can hurt you with his legs and he can hurt you with his arm. He’s an excellent player.”

“We’ve got to stop them on early downs behind the chains,” Justice said. “We’ve got to make [Smith] one-dimensional, force them to pass.”

The Concord coach said about the Rams’ defense, “They’re going to look as pretty, as solid, as any team we’ll see this year.”

Defensive back Larry Hearne intercepted two UNC-Pembroke passes in the end zone last Saturday, and knocked down a pass that would have produced a go-ahead score for UNC-P on the final play of the game.

The head coach of Winston-Salem State, Connell Maynor, is 22-3 in his two-plus years in charge.

— Contact Tom Bone at

tbone@bdtonline.com

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