By Tom Bone
For The Register-Herald
The defense for the Concord University football team is back to full strength for today’s game at the home of the Shepherd Rams. The Mountain Lions (2-2, 1-1 WVIAC) will likely need every bit of that strength to defeat the Rams (3-1, 2-0).
Last year, Shepherd came to Athens as the No. 3 team in NCAA Division II, and left after Concord administered them a 28-14 loss. That CU victory broke a seven-year losing streak to the Rams.
Garin Justice, Concord’s second-year head coach, said, “I think they came off that field knowing they’d been beat. That’s a tough pill to swallow. ... They’re probably looking at this game with a little bit of payback in their heart.
“We’re facing a very good opponent. That’s the bad news,” he said. “The good news is, it’s a defense we were able to, effectively, beat last year.
“We’ve just got to do a good job of sticking to our game plan, playing hard all four quarters, and seeing to it that we don’t give up the big plays. They’re a team that [relies] on the big play a lot. We’ve got to eliminate that.”
All-conference cornerback Riyadh Richardson was back in the lineup last weekend. Nose guard Josh Miller “is back at full strength,” Justice said. Defensive lineman Spenser Jordan, the leading tackler in the first few weeks of the season, is back from injury.
The Mountain Lions’ freshman quarterback Albert Rose was more comfortable last week in his second collegiate start.
“Last week, we really saw Albert settle in, be more confident and ready to make plays,” Justice said.
Justice said Rams quarterback Bobby Cooper has “done a good job of managing the game plan and executing the offense. And Shepherd always has good runners. They’ve got a couple of talented runners this year.
“They’re solid across both lines, offense and defense. There’s a reason why they’re a team to be reckoned with every year in the conference.”
Shepherd has won three straight since an opening-day 38-28 loss at Shippensburg, Pa. SU has won six straight West Virginia Conference games.
The Rams’ rushing attack is averaging 134.2 yards per game and Shepherd is passing for 201.5 yards on average. Defensively, SU is allowing a league-best average of just 41.2 yards on the ground per game and is second in the WVIAC in total defense.
Concord is averaging 194.2 yards per game passing the ball and 95.8 on the ground. The defense is holding opponents to 176.2 yards through the air on average, ranking second in the conference and 35th in Division II in pass defense.
“Their defense is their strength, as is ours,” Justice said. “They’re a lot like us. We’re balanced between the run and the pass. It should be an interesting contest.”
The game pits two current WVIAC players of the week.
Shepherd defensive back Keon Robinson returned an interception 48 yards for a touchdown last Saturday, and notched two pass breakups and two solo tackles to earn the conference’s weekly honor. The Rams defeated Charleston 16-10.
Concord linebacker Ervin Moore was named the league’s special teams player. He blocked a point-after kick attempt at Charleston which Richardson ran back for two points, tying the game 16-16. Concord won the game 23-16.
Shepherd was picked to finish first in the conference, and Concord was projected to finish second, in the preseason poll of league coaches.
Game time is noon in Shepherdstown. The ballgame will be broadcast over WWNR Radio, 620 AM.
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