CHARLOTTE — Luke Charles stood outside the visiting team locker room beaming with joy.
He had every right.
Charles had just completed 43 of 57 passes for a school record 403 yards and three touchdowns in leading the No.13-ranked University of North Carolina at Pembroke football team to a homecoming-ruining 45-22 victory over Charlotte Saturday afternoon at Jerry Richardson Stadium. It was a rout that caused fans of the Division I FCS upstart to start leaving late in the third quarter.
“I have to credit the coaching staff for breaking down the other team’s defense and putting together a great game plan,” Charles said. “Plus I have to give credit to my offensive line. They were blocking their butts off. Sometimes I had three or four seconds to throw.”
Charles used the time to carve up a Charlotte defense that had limited the opposition to 220 yards a game, was first in the FCS with 22 takeways and fourth with 10 interceptions. Charles’ lone miscue came in the second quarter when Terrance Winchester made a leaping interception in the second quarter at the Charlotte 23.
Other than that one turnover, the Braves were able to keep the 49ers off the field in the first matchup between programs. They held a 40:54 to 19:06 advantage in time of possession and ran 89 plays.
“I felt we played our best game,” UNCP coach Pete Shinnick said. “I’m happy with all phrases of the game today, our offense, defense and special teams. We executed in every aspect today. I felt the team which made the fewest mistakes would probably win.”
UNCP recovered three fumbles and L.J. Stroman picked off a Matt Johnson pass in the end zone. At the time of Stroman’s interception, Charlotte trailed 14-8.
“I had to zone in the ball when I saw it was tipped,” Stroman said. “I was about to turn around and block when I saw the ball was floating in the air.”
The Braves opened the scoring on Rontonio Stanley’s 2-yard run at the 10:40 mark of the first quarter. The 49ers responded on a 2-yard pass from Johnson to Mikel Hunter. Lee McNeil tacked on the 2-point conversion to give the home team an 8-7 lead.
Stanley’s second 2-yard touchdown on the ensuing possession gave UNCP the lead for good. The Braves’ defense stiffen, holding the 49ers to a three-and-out.
“That was huge by our defense,” Shinnick said. “We had just given up one and they come back out and shut them down.”
Even though his team is off to a 5-0 start on the season, which remains the best in UNCP history, Shinnick stressed it was just another step on a long journey.
“Our group is hungry, it’s a nice win, but it’s not our goal,” he said. “This keeps us on our path. We’re in this for the long haul. Every week we have to answer the challenge in front of us. We can enjoy it now, but next week we play Catawba.”
— Richmond County Daily Journal sports editor Shawn Stinson can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14, or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @scgolfer.