ATHENS — The Concord University football team is unaccustomed to time off. The Mountain Lions roared through an 11-0 regular season by going through intense drills in August and then playing 11 straight weeks.
The midpoint of their current two-week break provided their coach a time to reflect on Tuesday morning about how they put together their unblemished record, and the importance of getting to host an NCAA playoff game in Athens for the first time on Saturday at noon.
Concord head coach Garin Justice said, “It’s a great situation. We finished the season undefeated, the No. 1 team in the region. We’ve accomplished everything as a football team, up to this point, that we could accomplish.”
“I can’t say enough about the way the guys have worked, the way they’ve bought into everything we’re doing. ... It’s a lot to be proud of, but we still have more to accomplish. We still have the feeling that this team’s not finished.”
The Golden Rams of West Chester, Pa. (11-1) will provide their next opponent.
“West Chester’s a very good opponent. They won the region last year (and) finished fourth in the country. ... They beat a very good Shepherd team last year in the playoffs, and a lot of the guys that were on that team are back.”
“It’s going to be a challenge. The good news is, we’re the home team. They’ve got to come to Concord and play us. I have complete faith in our guys.
“I have no doubt that (West Chester) is going to give us a ballgame, that they’re going to give us their best shot, but I have faith in who we are and what we do, and we should be fine Saturday, as long as we prepare right and do what we’re supposed to do.
“The rest will take care of itself.”
“The belief these guys have is something special; it’s something you don’t have on a lot of teams. I’ve only had it on one other team I’ve been a part of. There’s a great feeling to know that when you go into a game that there’s complete confidence that you believe that you’re going to win the football game.”
When asked about whether a particular player had exceeded the coaches’ expectations, Justice said, “I never want to set a ceiling on any of our guys. I want our guys to max out to our full potential.”
“None of our guys have exceeded our expectations, because we expect them to be great. And they’ve been pretty close to great, all year long.”
He said that in Concord’s last regular-season game at Shepherd on Nov. 15, the Rams threw for a touchdown on the opening series.
“I saw zero panic from any of our guys,” Justice said. “It’s because the belief is so strong that, regardless of whether it’s a grind-it-out defensive game, or an offensive shootout, we’re going to find a way to win the football game.”
Concord won 29-20 in overtime to clinch its first conference title in the new Mountain East. Justice said, “I’d like to beat them 49-0 (but) as long as Concord’s up by one point, we’re good.”
“The biggest home regular-season game they could have was their game against us. We took their best shot, and it almost got us, but we withstood it and won the game.”
Combined with a loss by a Bloomsburg (Pa.), the win placed Concord in the top spot in the Super Region One brackets, along with a bye and the opportunity to host a playoff game or two. Both were welcome.
Justice said, “It gives us a better chance to win. ... You go (through) August camp, 11 straight weeks of (the) season — to get that off week at this time of the year, is invaluable. Then, on top of that, you get to play a home game here, on our field.”
Since he took over Concord’s head coaching role, “We’ve lost four games on our home field, and three of them have been to conference champions,” he said. “So I like our odds.”
He added, “I’m proud of the school, that they’ve really banded together and made this thing happen.”
Justice said, “When you get to this time of year, you’re going to get, at worst, two-loss football teams (as opponents). West Chester’s a good football team, but we like the challenge.”
The native of the Mingo County town of Gilbert, who’s also a former WVU offensive tackle, knows something about West Virginia weather in late November and early December.
“We think we’re an all-weather football team, and I think to win a national championship, to win in playoff football, you have to be an all-weather football team.”
“That means, if we need to run it 40 times to win, we can do that. If we need to pass it 40 times to win, we can do that. If we need to be a defense that stops a heavy-run offense (or) a passing team, we can do that.”
“It’s not that you can back us into a corner and say, ‘Well, if you make Concord do this, you can beat ’em.’ ”
Athletics director Kevin Garrett said key elements in Concord’s football team are its unity and “how they react to adversity.”
He said that the opportunity to host a playoff game is “a unique experience, and it’s an experience we want to get used to here at Concord.”
“We also want the community to celebrate this with us,” he said. “We want them to be a part of it, and we want everybody to come out and watch these guys play, because they deserve that. They’ve put the work in ... and we want the campus community and the local community to come and be a part of it.”
This game experience will be different from a usual Concord home game due to NCAA policies, Garrett said.
“It’s considered a neutral game,” he said. “But the thing I told Garin, and I told everybody I’ve talked to: At 12 o’clock, it’s still a football game at Concord University.”
Just 10 days after the whistle blew for the final time at Shepherd, Justice said, “We’re just excited to get to play again. It seems like forever since we’ve played.”
— Contact Tom Bone at