Braves, battered and bruised, take on Tigers

First Posted: 1/15/2009

Khary K. McGhee – Staff writer
PEMBROKE - In a team meeting following last week’s 10-7 loss to West Virginia Wesleyan, head coach Pete Shinnick asked members of his University of North Carolina at Pembroke football team to raise their hand if they wanted to take back at least one play from the loss.
Every player raised his hand.
“I told them that play makes all the difference in a game like that,” the Braves coach said.
Chalk up the close loss, which ended UNCP’s two-game win streak, to just another step in the learning process for a young and burgeoning program, Shinnick said. The Braves offense sputtered against the Bobcats. The defense, while stingy with points, missed opportunities to get off the field by allowing West Virginia Wesleyan to convert on key third-down plays.
“There were a lot of plays that I know we could have done more or things we would have done differently,” said linebacker John Stokes, UNCP’s leading tackler with 45 on the season. “Just little things that stick with you.”
Shinnick knows that his players understand their missteps. But he won’t get to find out if they learned from them until Saturday when the Braves, 3-4, travel to Jacksonville, Fla., to take on Edward Waters College, 2-5.
“In basketball, you can lose by 40 points and come out the next night and play well, completely shake it off,” the coach said. “In baseball, you can lose the first half a doubleheader and come out later and win the second game. In football, you can’t do that. You have to wait a week to find out.”
For Shinnick, it’s not just a matter of not knowing how much growth he’ll see in his team from week to week. It’s also been difficult to predict what the Braves will be able to do each time they take the field due to ongoing injury issues.
UNCP suffered another key loss on its offensive line when Blake Yarborough went down with an injury. And defensive back Wayne Blevins, who had moved from wide receiver to help bolster a depleted defensive backfield, had to be carted off the field last week after suffering a leg injury.
“It seems like every week we’re working in at least two new defensive players,” Shinnick said.
A perplexing development against West Virginia Wesleyan was the Braves lack of run production, typically a strength for UNCP. The Braves rushed for just 23 yards on 26 carries. Were it not for wideout Tim McCaskill, whose 148 yards receiving against the Bobcats earned him offensive player of the week honors from the Independents Collegiate Athletic Association, the UNCP offense would have been completely stagnant.

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