By Tom Bone
For The Register-Herald
Some branches of the WVU alumni tree will intertwine this afternoon when the football coaching staffs of Concord University and West Virginia Wesleyan College deploy their players in Athens.
The head coaches, Garin Justice and George Shehl respectively, were teammates on the Mountaineers team that played Georgia in the 2006 Sugar Bowl. Several of their assistant coaches are also former WVU players from that era and the years immediately following.
“We’re all pretty close friends,” Justice said.
That friendship will take a back seat for a few hours starting at 1 p.m. as Concord (4-2, 3-1 Mountain East Conference) tries for its third straight win over the visiting Bobcats (2-4, 2-3).
The last time the teams met in Athens, in November 2011, the conference championship was on the line and the Mountain Lions won 48-40 in a memorable shootout.
Shehl is in his first year running the program in Buckhannon, and Justice assessed that “(George) is doing a pretty solid job up there. … I think (when) he took that program over, it was a little bit in shambles. He’s done a good job of getting the guys playing hard, pulling in the right direction.”
Concord suffered its first football loss in the new Mountain East last Saturday, 22-10 at Urbana (Ohio), and will come out today determined to protect its home turf.
“Any time you have a loss it’s difficult,” Justice said. “They made plays. … They scored on the first play of the game, and on the first play of the second half. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an offense ever score on the first play of each half. One of them was a 75-yard touchdown, the other 97 or 98 yards. Those were just two explosive plays that were tough to overcome.”
Five interceptions by Urbana made it more than tough.
Justice said the problems with the passing game were not just the quarterback play, but included blocking and receivers who “didn’t do a great job of competing for the ball.”
He spotlighted the running game, the punting of Andrew Huska and the kicking of Andy Ellington.
The coach said, “I felt that there were some bright spots, (but) we didn’t have enough. They had more bright spots than us. And when you make five turnovers, you’re not going to win the football game. That’s all it comes down to.”
This week, the Concord defense is fifth in NCAA Division II in total defense, giving up 271.8 yards per game, and is second in points allowed, 11.8 on average.
Davon Marion’s interception at Urbana increased CU’s streak of games with at least one pick to 14 straight. Tre Preston had 10 tackles, three for loss, at Urbana. Jake Lilly ran his tackle total to 62, including 24 solo stops.
Huska’s 42.7 yards per punt average is 18th-best nationally, and he has booted a conference-high 12 touchbacks on kickoffs.
Calvinaugh Jones ran for 94 yards and Ben Nester added a career-high 55 at Urbana. Jones had a big day against Wesleyan last fall, with 138 yards and a touchdown. Quarterback Brian Novak is 81 for 156 passing this year for 941 yards and three touchdowns — and he has tossed 14 interceptions.
Justice said, “People only remember your last game. Right now, people may not think highly of us. If we win this weekend, they’ll feel a little bit better about us.
“We’re 2-0 at home right now. We’ve got to keep that alive. We’ve got to make Callaghan Stadium a tough place to play, and we’ve done that ever since I’ve been the head coach. If they get a win from us here, they’re really going to have to fight and battle us and it’s going to be a tough game, if they come out alive.”
West Virginia Wesleyan is 0-3 in road games, but Justice has warned his team not to let its guard down.
“We can’t overlook anyone,” he said. “They’re going to give us their best shot, as everyone has this year.”
West Virgina Wesleyan came back from a 10-0 deficit in its homecoming game last week to beat winless West Virginia State 45-30. Wesleyan had 95 net rushing yards and five turnovers of their own in that game.
The contest has been designated as the annual Rotary Bowl Game, in cooperation with the Princeton Rotary Club. It is also a “Pink Strong” game, focusing on breast cancer awareness.
Justice said he does not want his players wearing pink as a fad. He said his message to the team is, “I don’t want you wearing it just because your favorite NFL player does that. I want you to wear it because breast cancer awareness means something to you. They’ll know the importance of it.
“I don’t know how much pink we’ll be wearing, but we’ll definitely be in support of it. We’ll be very educated about it. And hopefully, there will be a lot of people in the crowd wearing pink, too.”