PEMBROKE — For all Luke Charles has done while at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, Saturday was a rare first.
He finally got to talk about the playoffs.
“I wanted to get there myself,” Charles said. “It was huge and I think it will be big for this program and its future.”
A key cog in the program over the last three years, Charles was among the 26 seniors recognized before Saturday’s regular season finale win against Virginia Lynchburg.
Once the Braves took the field, though, it was nearly all about the quarterback himself, who shined in one of his final home games.
Despite only playing until late in the third quarter, he broke his own school records with six touchdown passes and a 433 yards. The game made him the only quarterback in school history to throw for more than 3,000 yards in a season. He hit more than 75 percent of his passes, finishing 30 for 39, the only issue being two interceptions.
“Luke’s accepted this challenge and he knows that he’s got to be extremely prepared for every game, he knows that he needs to undertstand what the defense is giving so that he can make the right decisions and I think that 30 for 39 is really very impressive,” UNCP coach Pete Shinnick said.
Reading the defense, he mixed it up, connecting on everything from short screens that his receivers took for long gains to long shots at the endzone that resulted in SportsCenter-worthy catches.
In the first half he led Te’vell Williams with a pass that the receiver caught by his fingertips, arms stretched out above his waist. On a later drive, he tossed a lob into double coverage, caught by a leaping B.J. Bunn at the 1-yard line. Williams again came through with a leaping catch at the goal line in the second half.
All three were passes that Charles admits he normally wouldn’t try.
“With those guys I feel pretty dang good about it,” he said. “Just getting it within the vicinity of B.J. Bunn is almost an automatic catch.”
By the time he threw No. 6 with three minutes left in the third quarter, the Braves had little reason to keep him in.
He spent the final quarter helmetless on the sidelines, cheering on his his teammates.
The feats came during a game that otherwise was a formality as the Braves secured a home playoff game.
Unlike previous games this season, the stands around Grace P. Johnson Stadium had scattered empty seats and the normally jammed fence around the field had plenty of standing room. The school’s listed attendence was slightly more than 3,300 people.
The Braves still came out with a win-first mindset, even if it was in front of fewer fans than the norm this season.
“We made it a point at the beginning of the week to finish the season,” Charles said. “Complacency should never happen. We’ve come out every week, we we’ve had great practices and great weeks and it shows with great games. Complacency is basically the enemy and we’re just fighting it.”
Despite the lighter atmosphere, Lynchburg wasn’t easy on the quarterback, delivering a late hit in the first half that caused tension between the teams.
Charles got right back up and led his team to another touchdown while the rest of his team avoided any sort of confrontation.
“It just shows the poise of our team and the type of program we want to have,” Shinnick said. “Our guys understand what’s at stake, our guys understand what they need to do and they they did a great job. I think the best way you respond to something like that is is you go out and score points.”
The next stop is the playoffs, which will be held in Pembroke. The Braves won’t learn their opponent until this evening, but Charles said that if the Braves stick with what’s already working, they’ll be fine.
“I think we just have to continue what we’ve done all season, just play how we play,” Charles said. “We know that our opponents are about to get real tough from here on out, nothing’s going to be easy and everybody’s just out to get us. If we take that mentality and continue doing what we’re doing, play how we play, and we play our game, the wins are going to take care of themselves.”