PEMBROKE — As the University of North Carolina at Pembroke football team raised its helmets to the home stands on Saturday, there was hardly the festivity that had filled Grace P. Johnson Stadium in the months before.
The marching band played, but in the eyes of the Braves, there were some tears and plenty of disappointment.
The season was over.
For only the second time this season, the Braves lost, falling 37-13 to North Alabama in the first home playoff game in school history.
“Plays just didn’t go our way, the way they’ve been going all season, so that’s football,” said UNCP quarterback Luke Charles. “The game’s still got to be played. Obviously hindsight’s 20-20, I wish we could turn it around and say ‘Okay, I wish I wouldn’t have thrown that ball,’ but what’s done is done.
“We’re going to live with it, but I’m sorry it had to happen that way.”
The normally-potent Braves (9-2) scored the first points of the game but the Lions (10-2) limited them to 304 yards, the second lowest output of the season, and a season-low 13 points.
“I really felt like North Alabama did a fantastic job,” said UNCP coach Pete Shinnick. “They played pretty much error-free football and our hats are off to them. They’re well deserving of the win and are a very good football team.”
In the second playoff game in school history, the Braves had miscues that ultimately hurt them in the second half.
After going ahead 13-10 on their first drive of the second half, UNCP allowed 27 unanswered points.
The final nails were a pair of interceptions by Tavarius Wilson and Gabe Poe that were returned for touchdowns within 40 seconds of each other.
The Lions had put a heavy emphasis on stopping the Braves’ pass game, which had set numerous records throughout the year. Charles set one more, throwing a career-high five interceptions. It added to the Lions’ nation-leading total of 29 picks this year.
“We covered with eight all day long and rushed three most of the time,” said North Alabama coach Bobby Wallace. “There weren’t many places to throw the ball.”
The first pick came late in the first half on UNCP’s first drive following a touchdown. Starting from the Lions’ 21, Charles threw it to Lamar Smith at the 10. He threw a second in the third quarter, then three in the fourth.
Charles finished 24 of 39 for 206 yards with touchdown passes to Te’vell Williams and Michael Isbell. UNCP’s run game had 90 total yards, led by Tamari White with 62.
Kicker and former Lumberton star Connor Haskins also struggled at times, having a his first point after kick of the game blocked, his first miss of the season. He later was wide on a 31-yard field goal in the fourth quarter that would have narrowed the North Alabama lead from 10 to seven points, instead leaving the score at 23-13.
Offensively, the Lions used a deceptive run game to find holes in the UNCP’s defense. Utilizing multiple quarterbacks and the duo of Lamonte Thompson and Chris Coffey, there were fakes, motion and speed that UNCP struggled to stop. In 50 plays, UNA had 275 yards and each of the Lions’ four runners had at least 51.
It opened up a pass game that went 12 for 18 for 101 yards.
Linebacker Fred Williams, one of the few players remaining from the school’s first playoff team in 2009, said it was a matter of a few players that didn’t do what they were supposed to on big plays.
“It was just one or two guys that were out of their gaps,” Williams said. “It was a missed assignment here or a missed assignment here. Defense-wise, we were pretty much there, it was just one or two guys that weren’t executing the way they were supposed to and that’s when they got those big runs on us.”