PEMBROKE — With no games guaranteed past Saturday’s game against Concord, the seniors on The University of North Carolina at Pembroke are treating their final week of regular season practice like it will be their last.
The Braves checked in at No. 4 in the latest NCAA regional rankings, the rankings that are a heavy influence in picking the top seven spots in each region for the NCAA playoffs, after placing second on the list before its bye week. For the time being, Saturday’s 2 p.m., kickoff at home for senior day against Concord is the only certainty for UNCP.
“The seniors have really come down to knowing this is the last guaranteed game and we don’t know what’s happening after this,” said UNCP coach Shane Richardson. “They have a sense of urgency to them. …At the end of practices this week some seniors will stand up and talk with the team and just give them words of their experience and give them a few thoughts. It’s been good.”
While the team has not lingered on the rankings and the situations floating around the playoff picture in the region, the Braves are aware of where they stand and know the stakes of the game. A win would put UNCP in position to make sure the season, and the careers of its seniors, extend at least one more game, and a loss would all but end its chances for postseason play.
“They know where we’re at,” Richardson said. “They understand that nothing will be guaranteed if we don’t play well this weekend.”
Led by the driven senior class, the Braves also are prepping for the Mountain Lions off a bye week that has the readjusted the team after nine straight weeks of games. Closing has been a top priority for UNCP this season whether it’s the end of practice or the fourth quarter of the game and this week can be seen as the hypothetical fourth quarter of the season.
“Actually, having the bye week we refocused and recharged and it gave us a little energy,” Richardson said. “They’ve been bouncing around pretty good right now. We’re fresh-legged and we used the bye week very wisely. Now they just have to go out and make sure they’re locked in to what we’re trying to do.”
The Concord (2-8) has been centered around senior quarterback Brian Novak, who has passed for 237 yards per game this season. With nearly twice the first downs coming through the air as compared to running the ball, Concord comes in averaging 105 yards rushing per game.
“They’re very diverse and they do a great job of getting you in different alignments and trying to move you all around,” Richardson said. “What we’ve got to do is just to make sure not to over think it.”
While struggling to get a ground game up and running consistently this season, the Mountain Lion defense has been porous with its opponents rushing for at least 146 yards in every game this season.
“They’re very sound in what they do, but they’re very vanilla,” Richardson said.
Contact Jonathan Bym on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.