Signs in Athens, literal and figurative, seem to be pointing to Concord University’s football success.
As the Mountain Lions practice for this Saturday’s Division II Super Region One championship game in Athens, CU head coach Garin Justice was asked Tuesday about the sign in front of the Deli-Mart at the edge of town that reads, “Good job, Concord football. Keep it up.”
Another sign at Athens School reads, “Go Mountain Lions.”
Justice, in his fourth year as head coach at Concord, said the response of fans — some of them new converts — to the team’s win streak has been “great.”
“It’s what you would expect when you’re 12-0,” he said. “Hey, what we say is, we wish you’d have hopped on the bus half a year ago, but there are still plenty of seats available. So if you want to hop on, go ahead and hop on the bandwagon, all you want.”
This Saturday, he predicted, “Some people who normally, probably, wouldn’t go watch a Division II football game now may go and watch a Division II football game.”
On campus, he said, “There’s a lot of enthusiasm, there’s a good buzz in the air. It’s good for everyone. It’s good for the school, it’s good for the football program, It’s good for the conference ... it’s a lot of good vibes.”
“Anytime you can put out positive press about Concord University, that’s good for the school.”
Concord should have “a ton” of advantage by playing at home, Justice said. “Our kids always play better at home. ... We have to take advantage of that, and I will take any advantage I can get at this time of year.”
The Athenians were on their home turf last weekend and beat West Chester 51-36. Concord (12-0) qualified to host again this week, and will meet another team from Pennsylvania that is coming in with just one loss, the Bloomsburg Huskies (11-1).
Officially, it is an NCAA Division II national quarterfinal contest. Concord is the only No. 1 seed remaining in the final eight teams still in contention for the national title.
Recapping last week’s 619-yard offensive effort against West Chester, Justice said, “We had one of our better days that we’ve probably had, averaging 11.3 yards a play. That’s about as good as you can do and as good as you can ask for.”
“It was a good day.”
Running back Calvinaugh Jones and center Rustin Mayorga received all-region first-team honors on Wednesday as a result of their play this season.
Overall, Justice was “really proud of our guys (last Saturday),” he said. “With the importance of everything, I thought the guys came out and played well. They didn’t play overly tight.”
“This week, Bloomsburg, they’re kind of a different animal. Offensively, they’re going to be the exact opposite of what you saw last week. They’re a team that’s probably going to run the ball 70 percent of the time. They pride themselves on ball control; they want to eat up the clock.”
“Defensively, they may not overwhelm you ... but they do an excellent job in creating turnovers. (They are) one of the best teams I’ve ever seen as far as knocking the ball out of offensive guys’ hands.”
The Huskies have recovered 19 opponents’ fumbles and have made 22 interceptions, while losing only five fumbles and getting intercepted six times all year. That equals a plus-30 turnover margin, best in Division II.
Justice said, “That’s not luck; that’s not that offensive team playing bad offensive ball. That’s just Bloomsburg repping and practicing turnovers. ... They’re getting what they emphasize.”
“We’ve got to do a tremendous job all week of stressing the importance of holding on to the football.”
“Hanging onto the football, and trying to get them behind the chains, and forcing them to do what maybe they’re not the most comfortable doing — throwing the ball some.”
“The reason Bloomsburg is 11-1 is because not many people are able to stop them, and what they do. So, hopefully, we will have success in that. We’ll see on Saturday.”
Addressing the need for ball control, Justice said, “I’m big on signs. There were signs last week, with Calvinaugh’s fumble, with (Ben) Nester’s fumble.
“That’s the first time Calvinaugh has fumbled the ball, and lost the fumble, in his career, in three years, which is pretty staggering.”
“This week in practice, he really emphasized that,” Justice said. “Now, there’s an extra importance to that. I think that’s a sign that really helped us to value the football more in practice this week.”
Even the rainy weather in Athens earlier this week seemed to be a sign to Justice.
“It’s all about focus, how you focus, how you prepare, how you look at it,” he said about the weather.
“(Tuesday) we were blessed with a cold, rainy practice. In my mind, it goes back to signs. There’s a reason we had a rainy practice, there’s a reason we had to throw the ball in the rain, there’s a reason we had to work on ball security in the rain.”
“It’s a way for us to prepare to get ready for Saturday if it rains. If it doesn’t rain, that’s better. But at the end of the day, you build your team to play in all weather conditions.”
“In December, ... if you’re in the Northeast, you’re going to play some ugly, sloppy, dirty games, and we’ve got to be ready for that.”
“We’re not in Texas; we don’t play in a dome. We’re used to those conditions, and whatever the conditions are, it’s Concord football weather.”
Game time is 12:06 p.m. Saturday at Shott Field-Callaghan Stadium in Athens.
— Contact Tom Bone at email@example.com; Twitter @BDTBone. A more detailed game preview will appear in Saturday’s Register-Herald.