PEMBROKE — After an underwhelming performance in the first half in last week’s season opener at Winston-Salem State, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke football coach Shane Richardson wanted his team to start strong and sustain momentum against Fayetteville State.
The Braves started strong, but had trouble gaining momentum after taking an early lead in the first quarter. It wasn’t until the second half that momentum slid into UNCP’s favor to claim its eighth straight and final win for the forseeable future in the Two Rivers Classic series, 50-28 at Grace P. Johnson on Saturday. The series is not scheduled to resume for the near future.
“I thought the first few minute that offense, defense and special forces (teams) in the beginning were outstanding,” Richardson said. “I thought OK this is really good right now and I thought what happened was we got a mentality of being a little complacent.”
On the Braves’ first drive of the night, they took advantage of a short field after a punt left 49 yards left to the endzone. UNCP (2-0) made quick work, scoring four playing into the drive with a 35-yard touchdown pass from Patrick O’Brien to B.J. Bunn to strike first. Shawn Everett picked off Fayetteville State (0-2) quarterback DeMarius Davis on the next drive to set up a 31-yard field goal from Matt Davis to give UNCP an early 10-0 lead.
Davis broke the school record for field goals in a game with five, four of which came in the first half as the Braves’ offense stalled on three drives in the red zone.
“It’s great to break records, but it’s even better to win,” Davis said. “I’m thankful we got the win against a good opponent that played really hard.”
While the offense struggled, the defense held the Broncos scoreless in the second quarter after Fayetteville State took a 14-10 lead after the opening stanza.
“I think the offense had a little trouble picking up momentum in the second quarter, but I thought the defense played a great second quarter,” Richardson said.
Coming out of halftime up 19-14, UNCP scored 17 unanswered points with O’Brien connecting with Stedman Rush on the opening drive. Midway through the frame, Damian Whitaker blocked a punt and returned it 14 yards for touchdown to push the lead out to 33-14.
Sophomore running back Miles Grant had a game-high 132 yards rushing and scored with seven minutes remaining to give UNCP a 43-21 lead.
“I think Miles Grant is a difference maker,” Richardson said. “I think getting him the ball and getting his confidence going was a big boost there.”
The Fayetteville State rushing defense held Chowan to negative yardage last week and Grant took the challenge head on.
“I felt like I’ve practiced too hard and worked too hard for anybody to stop me,” he said.
With the series future indefinite, Richardson was pleased to see his team’s performance in the win and not overlook a team that the Braves have beat eight seasons in a row.
“We’ve done a great job to come out on top in obviously all eight games, especially down the stretch,” he said. “Every year I think it gets tougher. … Our guys have stepped up that much more and have done a fantastic job of knowing the importance of it.”
O’Brien went 23-31 for 242 yards and three touchdowns to lead the offense. Stevie Green had a team-high 103 yards rushing for the Broncos.
UNCP plays at Shaw next weekend.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.