By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
The Concord football season ended Saturday with a 41-33 loss to undefeated Shepherd, amid more of the adversity that dogged the Mountain Lions in 2013.
Garin Justice, finishing his third year as head coach in Athens, talked in the post-game press conference about the resilience of his team that finished 8-3, one win away from another conference crown.
Justice said, “They had a lot of adversity throughout the whole year, a lot of ups and downs, a lot of times when they could have packed it in, but they kept finding ways to win. They kept making plays.”
“Today was no different. It just so happened we played a better opponent and we came up a little bit short.”
“I couldn’t be more proud of these guys,” he said. “You hate to have moral victories but, offensively, you go for over 400 yards against the best defense in the country.”
“I felt (Brian Novak) stepped up and became the quarterback we know he can be, and is going to be.”
Novak, a redshirt freshman who started nine games, said, “The main thing I tried to do today was to not turn the ball over. That’s something I struggled with a little bit throughout the year. I knew the offense needed to take the next step, and it needed to start with me.”
In his first collegiate season, he threw for 1,556 yards and eight touchdowns, with 16 interceptions, and ran for a net of 80 yards.
Part of Concord’s early adversity was a concussion Novak suffered on Oct. 12 at Urbana, Ohio. It kept him out of the next game, and without backup Albert Rose, it caused CU to retool its offense completely before Novak was able to come back at full strength.
Novak said about the offense that will return next year, “It’s exciting. We wish we could do it now; we’ve got to take some time off. But we all understand that we took a step today, and it’s going to lead to good things in the future.”
Speaking of the Concord defense, Justice said, “The yards (Shepherd) got, it’s a credit to them, they did a nice job, but we were short-handed. We were down a couple of men.”
One of those men was two-time all-conference defensive back Riyahd Richardson, who was arrested on Friday evening along with special teams captain Russell Bailey Jr. and Maricco Sanders, according to the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department.
The athletics office did not comment on the status of any of them prior to or after the game. Prior to Saturday’s kickoff, their names had been removed from the printed roster and from the athletics website.
In addition, a season of injuries affected the defensive line. Justice said, “Anthony Pyle’s been taped together the whole year.” With all the injuries, Justice said that on Saturday, “Guys like (Will) Greathouse and Ferg (Keith Ferguson) held it together.”
“Coach (Pat) Dawson had those guys hanging together,” Justice said.
The injuries continued during the Shepherd game, and two starting linebackers were involved.
Last season’s defensive player of the year, Jake Lilly, injured a knee ligament on the game’s second play. Though he returned to the contest, he was far from full strength. Justice added, “Ervin Moore, I think, did something to his elbow.”
The coach said, “Finally, we just didn’t have enough personnel, really, to hold up. And credit goes to (Shepherd), they did a nice job of exposing that, and making plays.”
But he said about his defensive unit, “I thought they kept fighting. Their spirit never died. They kept playing hard. ... They kept their head up. If they’d have kept their head down, we’d have every right to get blown out in that football game. We didn’t. They fought, and they did a nice job.”
Lilly said the team “had our ups and downs the last couple of days. Things didn’t go our way, but, shoot, with what we had out there on the field, we still gave it our all.”
Justice said about Greathouse, “Will’s done a nice job all year, and those defensive linemen don’t get enough credit.
“You see Jake Lilly get 10, 15 tackles a game, but you don’t mention the Will Greathouses, the Keith Fergusons, the Anthony Pyles, the Darryl Johnsons, who are in the trenches every play, and really holding up the offensive line and letting those guys make plays.”
“Will’s been a productive player ever since he came in the door here. This is his junior year, and his best is yet to come.”
Greathouse said about Shepherd, “They were a good opponent. I’m not going to take anything away from them, but ... my guys played hard. We played hard, the whole game.”
After playing his last collegiate football game, Lilly said the 2013 team possessed the “best defense I’ve ever played with, best D-line, DBs, just athletes across the board, and I’m just glad to be part of it. I mean, a linebacker’s only as good as his D-line; a running back’s only as good as his offensive line.”
“I’ve had a successful career over here at Concord, and I give it all to my D-line. Since I’ve been here, I’ve had a great D-line in front of me. They take up the blockers, and let me scrape (across the defensive front) and make plays.”
Justice realizes that personnel will come and go in college football, and on Saturday he vowed to keep the quality and the winning mindset up in Athens.
Justice said, “It’s a never-die attitude, and these guys are growing up in front of our eyes, offensively and defensively. (We’re) going to miss those seniors, though.”
“Just like any great person that leaves, someone else steps up. That’s what having a good program is about, that’s what recruiting’s about. We’ve got players in-house that are going to step up. We’ve got a nice group of younger guys, (including several) that played today (Saturday).”
“Concord football is still going to be on the rise. We’re not going anywhere. We’re not leaving. If you’ve got to win this conference, you’ve got to go through Concord, and we’re going to keep it that way for years to come.
“And that’s not a cocky, arrogant thing; that’s just because of the belief I have in my guys and what they’re going to do.”
— Contact Tom Bone at