ATHENS — The Concord Mountain Lions football team has reached the midpoint of its season, and this week coach Paul Price preferred to look at the schedule as potentially half full, instead of presently empty.
Concord (0-5) is on the road again to play West Liberty (2-3) Saturday in the Northern Panhandle. CU beat the Hilltoppers 46-33 last October, one of two wins for the Mountain Lions in 2018.
“We’ve got six games left,” Price said on Wednesday. “They’re all league games. We look to compete and win in all of them.”
The two teams are “pretty evenly matched in some areas, and that should make for an interesting contest,” Price said. “Historically, we’ve played well against West Liberty. … The bottom line is, usually, when we play them, both teams are very hungry for a win — and that’s certainly exists now.”
Every team Concord has faced has a winning record, as Price pointed out.
“We’ve played five (games, and) in four of the five we were in it, later into the ballgame, and had a legitimate chance of turning those into wins,” Price said.
“The records of the teams we played, early in the season, were very good. That doesn’t mean that we’re not playing good teams, now. It’s just that, statistically speaking, all those guys were way up at the top of most categories.
“Now, we’re easing into a portion of our season where it’s teams with records like ours. And we think we can bang around with these guys, for sure.”
The guys from West Liberty will be trying for a homecoming win under the leadership of Roger Waialae, in the midst of his 15th season as head coach of the Hilltoppers.
Price said, “Roger Waialae’s been doing it for a long time, and he knows what I know: Conference games are tough to win. It feels like you’ve won the Super Bowl, every conference win you get, because you know how tough it is.”
The Concord coach said that West Liberty has “left some things on the table (this season). They had a game with Frostburg that they should have won; we had a game at Glenville that we should have won. That digs on ya … .”
Both teams favor the pass over the run game, led by senior quarterbacks. Both have defenses allowing in the neighborhood of 400 yards per game.
“They have a quarterback (Zach Phillips) that’s seasoned, and really hitting his stride,” Price said. “Both fronts have been hot and cold. Their offensive and defensive lines have played great at times. Other times, not so great. Ours, the same way.
“I think it’s two teams that have reached the midpoint of the season, and realize that there’s some good things that can happen here, later in the year, and this game is pivotal to making those things happen.”
Last week, in its only non-conference game, Concord fell 38-14 at Hillsdale College in Michigan.
Price said, “We thought last week that handling the football was critical to our success, and we did not do a very good job of that. We turned the ball over four times, and were unable to get (a turnover). That is a recipe for being unsuccessful. Obviously, we’re working on it … .”
“Defensively, we did a great job in the first half, and kind of lost momentum near the end of the game, when their run game took over and they were able to crack us a couple of times off of turnovers.
“But we competed well, and we look to do that again this week at West Liberty.”
“You get better by playing better teams,” he said.
For the first time in almost three years, Concord had two players amass more than 100 receiving yards at Hillsdale. Tywan Pearce had a career-best 110 yards on seven catches and Brandon Plyler caught 11 balls for 150 yards.
“They complement each other very well,” Price said. “With both of those guys playing on the field at the same time, we have the best chance of stressing the defense.”
“We look forward, in the final six weeks of the year, having those two guys really blow up.”
The passes headed their way came from both senior quarterback Kyle Akin (69-121 for 867 yards this season) and redshirt freshman Matt Shearer (27-62 for 297 yards).
With an eye on the future, and a solid option when Akin gets “dinged up,” Price has put Shearer in the huddle in all five games.
“You’ll continue to see both those guys on the field,” Price said.
Defensively, Dwain Porterfield made a career-best 12 tackles at Hillsdale and his 44 stops this season is tied for fifth best in the Mountain East.
Freshman punter Francisco Flores booted the ball six times last Saturday and averaged 45.8 yards, helped by a 61-yard punt, the longest in the league this season.
The Mountain Lions did not have a penalty assessed against them last Saturday. Concord is averaging 56.6 penalty yards per game, second fewest in the conference.
Three of West Liberty’s five games have been decided by 10 points or less, including a 39-29 loss last Saturday at West Virginia State.