WINSTON-SALEM — After throwing an interception that was returned for a touchdown that gave Winston-Salem State a two-touchdown lead on his first pass of the game, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke quarterback Patrick O’Brien rebounded with a little help from a text message he got earlier in the day.
The senior quarterback shook off the early mistake and led the Braves to 20 unanswered points en route earning the first win in program history at Bowman Gray Stadium on Saturday night by a 20-17 score. Before the game, it was a text message between O’Brien and UNCP coach Shane Richardson that provided a valuable lesson for the game to come, and a bit of parallelism.
“It’s kind of ironic. During the (University of) Michigan game, their quarterback threw an interception on his first pass. I sent him a text on the bus and I said, ‘Hey, the Michigan quarterback threw a pick on his first pass and they came back and won,’” Richardson said. “I said, ‘Just know that you need to stay poised and confident and I believe in him.’ It would’ve been OK if he didn’t throw that first pick, but he did and we overcame it. That’s a testament to him and the rest of the guys.”
The coincidence of that text hit O’Brien as he was on the sidelines following that play.
“Afterwards, yes I did think about it and thought it was kind of ironic and hopefully I can finish the game like the Michigan quarterback did,” O’Brien said. “No UNC Pemborke team has won in Bowman Gray and we won the hard way, but it feels great.”
After O’Brien’s first pass attempt was picked off by Cameron Sullivan and returned for a score to give Winston-Salem State an early 14-0 lead, the junior captain looked poised and confident to finish the game 19-for-29 for 192 yards and a touchdown.
Winston-Salem State held a 17-0 lead early in the second half, but from there the UNCP defense battened the hatches to hold the Rams scoreless over the final 2 1/2 quarters, hold it to 40 yards of total offense in the second half and force a turnover in the third quarter to change the tides of the game that led to the wave of scoring in the second half
“We’re resilient. We talk about staying together and we talk about being confident,” Richardson said. “We knew there was going to be adversity and there certainly was in the second half, honestly we expected it and kind of rode the wave a little bit. I’m proud of every phase of the game in the second half.”
Sophomore saftey Josh Manns picked off Winston-Salem State quarterback Rod Tinsley midway through the third quarter to give the Braves the ball at the Rams’ 35-yard line to set up the Braves’ first touchdown of the night on a two-yard touchdown toss from O’Brien to B.J. Bunn on fourth-and-goal. The interception came after the Braves lost a fumble three yards from the endzone on the first drive of the half.
With offense putting up scores, the UNCP defense continued to swarm the ball.
“The momentum shifted and we just flew around,” said linebacker Garrett Barnett won finished with seven tackles. “When the offense is rolling, it feeds over to us.”
UNCP put points up on both of its drives in the final quarter with momentum on their side. Cliff Jones found the endzone on the Braves’ first drive of the fourth to tie the game at 17-all on a five-yard touchdown run with 7:25 left. The Rams melted three minutes off the clock on the ensuing drive and was forced to punt back to the Braves who had scored on the last two drives.
Starting the drive with 4:22 left in the game on his 36-yard line, O’Brien connected with Jonathan Allen for a 30-yard gain to get into Ram territory and senior running back Rontonio Stanley had a 17-yard run to put the Braves at first-and-goal to set up Matt Davis’ game-winning 29-yard field goal.
“It was great to get on top,” Davis said of seeing the ball go through the uprights. “I’m really excited for what God’s done with this team and how we came back from down 14 points to put up 20 unanswered like we did.”
The win gives Richardson a good sign for his team as far as taking on hostile environments on the road following a 1-4 record last season on the road.
“I’m especially proud with our road record last year. I’m proud of what our guys were able to do,” Richardson said.
The Braves host Fayetteville State for the Two Rivers Classic at Grace P. Johnson Stadium on Saturday for a 7 p.m. kickoff.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.