By Tom Bone
For The Register-Herald
Garin Justice wants the final day of competition in Athens for his 19 seniors to be memorable.
A victory by the Concord Mountain Lions against conference rival West Liberty would do the trick.
The CU head coach said, “You look back on these guys, along with last year’s (seniors), they are one of the foundational classes to build on what we’ve started. They were the ones who started to swing the culture of this program.
“They signed on to a program that was 0-11 the year before. For those guys to take the leap of faith ... tells a lot about their character and who they are.”
The seniors and their families are expected to be honored in a pregame ceremony at Callaghan Stadium. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.
Justice said, “I just hope people can come out and show respect for what these seniors have done for this program. They deserve to have a packed crowd.”
The crowd may also be treated to a high-powered competitive football game.
Concord (5-4, 4-2 in conference play) scored its highest point total of the season a week ago in a 41-10 defeat of Fairmont State. West Liberty (4-4, 4-3) won 41-29 at Seton Hill, Pa. Both teams could ensure winning seasons with a victory today.
Last year against the Hilltoppers, Concord scored three defensive touchdowns en route to a 32-29 win at WLU. West Liberty won 56-33 in Athens two years ago. Over the last eight years, each team has won four times.
Last Saturday, the Mountain Lions got 218 passing yards from senior Evin Dusold and three touchdown catches from senior Ansel Ponder. Dusold has completed 63.8 percent of his passes since taking over behind center.
“It’s nice to see him step into that role, and be a leader, and take complete charge of the offense,” Justice said. Regarding Ponder, who is averaging 70 receiving yards per game, he said, “He deserved to have that week.”
Jocorey Robins had 58 of Concord’s 140 rushing yards against Fairmont State. Fellow freshman Calvinaugh Jones ran 16 times for 37 net yards.
The Concord defense is admittedly the strength of the team, with a rank of 18th in NCAA Division II in total defense and 13th in pass defense. Last weekend the Mountain Lions allowed just one third-down conversion by Fairmont State.
Linebacker Jake Lilly leads the West Virginia Conference with 105 tackles. Riyadh Richardson is tops in the league with 12 passes defended; Kevin Elliott is tied for the lead in interceptions with four; and Richardson and Davon Marion are tied for second in the forced-fumble category with two each.
“Our defense has allowed us to be in every single game this year,” Justice said. “Hopefully, we will see the complete effort in all three phases of the game, the way we did against Fairmont State.”
The other phase, special teams, is holding up its end of the bargain. Senior punter Brad Cox is averaging 40.7 yards per kick, tied for the best in the WVIAC. Concord has also blocked five kicks this season.
West Liberty, which like Concord has won three of its last four games, leads the nation with five interception returns for touchdowns. The ’Toppers average 290.9 yards of offense per game and are allowing 347.9 yards on average.
Running back Isiah Moody ran for 119 yards in the win at Seton Hill while quarterback Dylan Lagarde has thrown for 1,119 yards and six touchdowns — while splitting the signal-calling duties.
Safety Marco Ricchetti has racked up double-digit tackles in each of WLU’s last three games.
Justice said, “They have an explosive offense, every single year. They’ve got the same coaches and some of the same players that they’ve had in recent years, (and) their defense is opportunistic. They’re very scary defensively.”
Justice noted that CU has continued to achieve despite having 14 of its pre-season first-team players miss at least one game. Freshmen have been pressed into service and have responded.
“That says a lot about the freshman class, that attitude of not quitting,” the coach said. “That mentality has really been brought by the senior class.”
Concord concludes its season next weekend at West Virginia Wesleyan College.
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