By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
LYNCHBURG, Va. —
The statistics didn't tell the whole story.
Concord University stepped into a Division I football game at the home of the Liberty University Flames on Saturday and held their own through most of the first half before the home squad recorded a 21-13 victory in front of a crowd of 18,643 at Arthur L. Williams Stadium.
The visiting Mountain Lions (4-4) managed six first downs and 177 yards on offense on 42 plays, while their hosts had 22 first downs and 406 yards on 78 offensive snaps. With a time of possession of 40:38, Liberty (3-4) held the ball more than twice as long as their guests.
Concord head coach Garin Justice said, “We knew Liberty was an FCS opponent. We were aware of their close losses against great competition. … But we knew, coming into this game, that we were going to compete, we were going to fight, and see what happened.
“And I'm extremely proud of my guys. The stat line doesn't necessarily show it, but the scoreboard does, and our guys completely battled them to the end.”
“Now, the stats are the stats. They are a better football team than we are. They have more scholarships than we do, they have more tools.”
Liberty's first-year head coach Turner Gill, said, “It was a well played game. They (Concord) hung in there and made plays when they had to make plays. … Our guys responded when they had to respond. … We did enough to win the football game, and I'm happy for it.”
Neither team came close to scoring in the first quarter. Liberty ran 18 plays to Concord's 11, establishing a pattern that lasted the whole contest.
Special teams play was Concord's secret weapon early in the game. Brad Cox punted 58 yards after Concord's three-and-out to open the game, and the ball was touched down inside the Liberty one yard line. Cox also issued a 39-yard punt with only a one-yard return. The Mountain Lions nearly blocked Liberty's first punt.
Early in the second period, Concord's Kevin Elliott sacked Woodrum for an 11-yard loss, forcing a field goal try, Aaron Sassman's first collegiate attempt. Ervin Moore dove in for the block, and Nate Pollard scooped up the loose pigskin and took it 58 yards for the first points of the day.
Andy Ellington's kick gave Concord a 7-0 lead.
As has been their pattern, the Flames worked on their run game, alternating carries between 205-pound Sirchauncey Holloway and 230-pound Aldreakis Allen. That kept some pressure off redshirt freshman quarterback Josh Woodrum.
Meanwhile, Concord lost two of its starting three on the defensive line early in the game.
Despite the reliance on the run, the Flames' first score was a 41-yard deep pass against single coverage from Woodrum to freshman Darrin Peterson. The ball dropped as if it were in an elevator chute to the goal line, concluding a 94-yard drive that took up more than five minutes. Sassaman's kick tied the game 7-7 with 7:52 left in the first half.
Concord attempted to answer that drive. Evin Dusold, in his first collegiate start at quarterback, threw a 56-yard reception on first down to freshman Jacorey Harris. The march quickly stalled, however, and Ellington's 47-yard field goal try was short after it was partially blocked by Francis Bah of Liberty.
The Mountain Lions caught another break when Libery receiver Pat Kelly was thrown to the turf an instant before Woodrum tossed the ball. Concord cornerback Riyadh Richardson plucked the ball out of the air and took it 49 yards to the Liberty one-foot line.
Richardson said, “I had the safety over top, so I could play real aggressive. I basically threw him on the ground, and the quarterback threw the ball, and I picked it.”
Short yardage specialist Ben Nester ran off left guard for a touchdown on the next play, his only carry of the game. The point-after attempt was blocked by Liberty's Francis Bah and Concord held a 13-7 lead with 3:41 remaining before halftime.
The Flames put together a 67-yard foray, keyed by three pass completions by Woodrum and runs by Holloway, who notched a three-yard touchdown run with 42.6 seconds left. Sassaman again nailed the extra point for a 14-13 lead for the home team.
A quick Concord possession after that ended with a 44-yard punt by Cox that Jake Lilly put down at the Liberty 1 as time expired in the half.
The visitors were within a point of the Flames at the break despite gaining only two first downs and gaining 24 yards on nine rushing attempts. Liberty ran for 126 yards and had 143 passing yards in the half, and controlled the ball for almost 22 out of 30 minutes of play.
Holloway did the lion's share of the work on a 56-yard march that ended with his two-yard run, setting up a 21-13 advantage with 5:28 left in the third quarter.
Penalties marred the play-by-play throughout the third period, including two separate offsetting penalty calls. Concord also called two timeouts in the opening four minutes of the quarter, restricting its options later in the contest.
The Mountain Lions put seven plays together midway through the fourth quarter and sent Ellington out for a 48-yard field goal attempt which was wide left.
The Flames relied on the run game to grind out most of the rest of the time on the clock.
“It was a great defensive effort,” Justice said. “We were making them doing that, drive the whole field, and bend but not break, with only four defensive linemen. … We made them be slow, we made it be slow, long possessions. … We made them earn every point they had.”
Justice said, “They rushed for 450 yards last week, so they're a good rushing football team. We did a nice job of slowing it down and containing it. The defense put our offense in a position to win the football game, and that's all we can ask of them.”
With regard to the offense, Justice said, “I didn't feel our offense could consistently drive the field on those guys. I knew we had to take a couple of shots (with downfield passes). That was part of the game plan, because we knew their personnel was better than ours.
“So we had to get a couple of shots, and unfortunately, the shots we called, we didn't have enough of them.”
Holloway gained 142 yards rushing, only the third back to run for more than 100 yards on Concord this season. Allen had 94 yards. Woodrum completed 16 of 24 passes for 173 yards and was sacked three times. Senior Elliott Dutra had a productive outing, catching seven balls for 80 yards.
Concord's leading rusher, freshman Calvinaugh Jones, ran 10 times for a net of 23 yards. Dusold connected on 10 of 24 throws for 130 yards. Robins' 56-yard catch accounted for almost half of his team's receiving total. Ansel Ponder caught three passes for 18 yards.
Cox launched seven punts and averaged 42.9 yards per kick, with three balls downed inside the opponent's 20 yard line.
Asked to assess his first start, Dusold said, “I could've played better, to be honest. They had a good team, a good defense. They had a good game plan against us. Overall, it was a decent game, but there's always room for improvement.”
Richardson said, “We played a hell of a game. They're a Division 1-double-A school, and we're a D-2 school. For the score to be 13-21, we've got to feel good about ourselves.”
Concord, now 0-5 all-time against Liberty, returns to West Virginia Conference action for its final three games, starting with a visit by Fairmont State to Athens next Saturday at 1 p.m.
— Contact Tom Bone at firstname.lastname@example.org