By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Brian Novak set the tone for the Concord offense from the first play on Saturday, a long deep pass down the middle of the field against UVa-Wise.
Though incomplete, the throw conjured up memories of Concord’s high-yield passing game from 2010 and 2011. And it sent a message.
The redshirt freshman quarterback was back from an absence due to a concussion.
“Mentally, I felt 100 percent focused,” Novak said about his performance in the 44-6 conference victory. Addressing his return, he said confidently, “I am fine. No symptoms. I am back.”
Novak completed 16 of 27 throws for 271 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Concord head coach Garin Justice said, “I thought Brian Novak really bounced back. Brian made good throws. ... He put the ball where only, really, we could get it.”
With freshman Jeremy Gaskin still in redshirt status, Concord turned to Ben Nester, a former PikeView High School quarterback, to fill in for Novak on Oct. 19.
Nester took all the snaps in a 49-21 win against West Virginia Wesleyan, running for 159 yards and going 2 for 6 passing.
The next week, at Charleston, Nester ran for 56 yards and threw one pass, which was incomplete. Novak saw limited action in that game, which Concord won 12-3 in double overtime.
Justice said on Saturday, “The last two weeks, we’ve been very one-dimensional with Ben in the game. Ben gave us the spark we needed at the right time. But for us to win big like we need to win, we need the other element.”
“We have too much talent outside, with guys like Tiko Henderson and Darrick Williams and our other wide receivers. We have too much talent, and defenses are too good for us not to be able to be multi-dimensional.”
Novak fills that role. In his eight games this season, he has thrown for 1,221 yards, completing 53 percent of his 185 passes.
He also tossed 14 interceptions in seven games — but none against UVa-Wise.
In fact, it was his first multi-touchdown effort as a collegian.
Justice said it was “the first complete game ... he’s had all year.” He noted, “Brian showed today the Brian that we have seen in practice, the Brian we have seen in spurts in the game.”
He was careful to point out that he believes Nester still has a vital role in the CU offense. He also wanted to avoid a dreaded trap for coaches with more than one signal-caller.
“They’re two different types of guys,” he said. “It’s not like we’re opening up a quarterback controversy.”
“It’s going to be Novak’s show, and then Ben’s going to come in and give us a spark when we need him to. He’s shown that he can give us that spark, from the Wesleyan game. He won the Charleston game playing quarterback.”
He added, “Nester’s a phenomenon. He’s played wide receiver, fullback, halfback, and quarterback here. I guess his next stop is playing center.”
“Those guys have totally bought into the team concept,” he said about his two active quarterbacks. “Those guys are very unselfish.”
All week, leading up to the UVa-Wise game, Concord’s players had heard the challenge to prepare themselves for a stretch run in the last three contests of the regular season.
Justice said, “Our theme of the week was to prepare to dominate. It wasn’t anything that was a slight to UVa-Wise, it was (that) we needed to take the next step as a football team.”
That was demonstrated on the first play.
Novak said, “The past two weeks, we’d been running the ball, and running it, and really hadn’t been throwing it that much. We just wanted to let them know we were trying to take the top off.”
That desire for domination was also demonstrated by Concord’s defense, which intercepted three passes, produced nine tackles for loss, and broke up five passes against the outclassed Highland Cavaliers.
Novak said, “All I can say is I’m one of the luckiest quarterbacks, to have this defense. Honestly, it’s one of the best defenses in the country; that’s been shown in the stats.”
“They make it a lot easier for the offense, and they bail us out of some things that could put us in a bad situation.”
There weren’t many bad situations on Saturday. But two games remain — and likely more if Concord can win out and earn a postseason berth.
Shortly after Saturday’s game, special teams standout Russell Bailey said, “As far as next week, I think we need to come in Monday, forget about this week, and worry about Notre Dame (College), because it could be a trap game.”
— Contact Tom Bone at firstname.lastname@example.org