First Posted: 9/17/2010
PEMBROKE The football soars well over the head of Cory Smith’s intended target.
Pete Shinnick blows his whistle.
Run it again.
The ensuing long heave, a pin-point strike to Te’vell Williams, lands in stride in the true freshman’s hands five yards deep in the end zone.
The relationships continue to blossom between The University of North Carolina at Pembroke senior quarterback and his new crop of wideouts, a talented yet inexperienced group that is responsible for replacing reliable targets, L.J. Johnson and Jamal Williams, from last season.
So far, so good for the unbeaten 17th-ranked Braves.
“We have the most speed at receiver that we’ve ever had,” Shinnick said after Wednesday’s practice. “Te’vell, Joe Burnett, Donald Britt those are all young guys with a tremendous amount of speed.”
UNCP has primarily focused on the running game during its current eight-game regular season winning streak, but responded through the air last weekend at St. Pauls.
Facing an eight-man front, Smith completed 14 passes to nine different receivers for a total of 283 yards. His 63-yard bomb to Williams in the second quarter continued his streak of 22 consecutive games with a touchdown pass.
“Cory connected on his long ball shots,” Shinnick said. “That was very exciting to see. Our guys did a great job of catching the football.”
Play-action passes and taking shots down the field is a facet of the offense Shinnick hopes continues when the Braves travel to Wingate on Saturday.
The Bulldogs have been the Braves’ nemesis, winning two of the last three meetings. Wingate handed UNCP its only blemish in 2008, a seven-point defeat that ultimately kept the Braves from making the postseason. Veteran players who remember both losses are trying not to harp on previous setbacks, especially the 57-14 shellacking in Pembroke three years ago.
“We’re a confident group going into every game,” UNCP senior St. Anthony Lloyd said. “But it’s all about how well we execute. It’s on us.”
Lloyd was one of four receivers to catch a pass of 20 yards or more last weekend and, naturally, likes the added emphasis on the passing game. He leads all pass-catchers with six receptions in two games.
“If the opportunity is there, we’re going to take it,” Lloyd said. “I wouldn’t say we expect to be (open) but we’re going to take a shot.”
With Carson-Newman looming at home on Sept. 25, Shinnick says the focus is directly on Saturday. Looking ahead could disrupt the Braves’ recent rise in the national polls and a loss to Wingate would damage UNCP’s chances of being invited to the Division II playoffs for the second straight year.
“It’s going to be a tough game and we will be tested,” Shinnick said. “We have a tremendous amount of respect for Wingate and what they do. They have the edge. They’re up 2 to 1 in the series.”
“Our seniors have done a good job of making the most of the opportunity,” Shinnick said. “Our defense has played very, very fast.”
Kickoff is set for 1:30 p.m. at Irwin Belk Stadium and John R. Martin Field. The Bulldogs are 1-1 coming off a bye week. Saturday’s game will be the team’s home opener. Tickets are still available.