PEMBROKE — Out to a 2-0 start this season, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke football coach Shane Richardson is still looking for his team to play consistently through four quarters.
After a quiet first half that led to a come-from-behind win in the second half at Winston-Salem State and a second quarter full of stalled offensive drives in the win over Fayetteville State, the Braves travel to Shaw tomorrow for a 1 p.m., kickoff.
“We’ve made an emphasis of making sure that we’re understanding what the total portions of the game mean for a full four quarters,” Richardson said. “Start fast, sustain that momentum and then be able to finish out that game. We finished well the first week, we started well the second week and we picked up the roller coaster momentum a little bit in the second week, but it wasn’t full quarters. I’d like to see a full four quarters this week.”
The Bears are UNCP’s third opponent from the CIAA in three weeks and a win at Durham County Memorial Stadium will give the program a 3-0 start for the third time in four seasons.
With two blowout losses to start the season, Shaw’s slow start is nothing that Richardson is discounting his opponents that showed in 2015 they can be dangerous no matter what its record is. Last season, the Bears went 0-8 before picking up a 32-25 overtime win on the road over Winston-Salem State, the eventual CIAA conference champions. Revenge is also on the Braves’ minds after falling to Shaw on the road in 2014.
“We’re not taking them lightly at all,” Richardson said. “They are going to give us a great game at their place. Two years ago, we went up there and were not able to play very well and we lost a lead up there. We’re look to avenge that and make sure that we get it right this time.”
Freshman quarterback Timothy Abbott and junior wide out Trevante Long have sparked a connection for the Bears’ offense — that has scored 13 points in two games — with the junior hauling in 154 of Abbott’s 330 total passing yards. Freshman Devon Hunt, a recent Richmond Senior grad, keys the defense at middle linebacker leading the team in tackles, tackles for loss and sacks.
With a relatively balanced offense, the Braves running game has went with three backs this season consistently and has fed the hot hand, but still has worked by committee, through each of its two contests.
For the most part the snaps have been shared between senior Rontonio Stanley, the listed starter at running back, with 18 carries for 67 yards in the opener, sophomore Miles Grant with 13 rushes for 132 yards in the win over Fayetteville State and Cliff Jones who has 81 yards through two games and the only rushing touchdown among the three.
“I think we’ve got some very capable backs and I think that sometimes if a guy is hot, you’ve got to make sure he stays hot and do what’s working,” Richardson said. “If for some reason that his style — and they’re all different styles we’ve got in the backfield — isn’t working that we keep things balanced and find somebody that brings a spark.”
Richardson added that he is unsure if the number of running backs getting handoffs will be cut down to one or two backs or stay by committee for the rest of the year, but will do whatever he sees best for the team moving forward.
Through two weeks of practices, the Braves have been even keel handling the early success of the team.
“Actually, I feel like our team is handling it pretty well,” Richardson said. “Sometimes I think you can get some ups and downs and swings of emotions. Honestly, I felt like we’ve been fairly consistent with how we’ve attacked our week this week.
“We’ve got leadership that understands where we are and where we want to get to and we’re not satisfied yet. This is another game where we’ve got to be able to raise our ability of play and play to the best of our ability.”
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.