PEMBROKE — For the third time in the 10-year history of the program, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke football team is going to the NCAA Division II football playoffs, but after one-and-done trips the previous two times, the Braves go into this postseason wanting more.
“This is something we are extremely humble and thankful for, but again at the same time it’s an expectation for the program,” said UNCP football head coach Shane Richardson. “We want to raise the bar and follow our vision of being a premier program in this country, this is where we want to be and to take full advantage of it.”
Fifth-seeded UNCP will travel to the No. 5 seed Valdosta State next Saturday in search of the program’s first playoff win and to set a program best mark of 10 wins in a season. The winner travels to top-seeded North Alabama in the second round. The Braves’ three playoff appearances in the first 10 years of the program is the second occurrence in NCAA Division II history — Colorado State-Pueblo was the only other program to record that mark.
After being ranked second in the regional rankings two weeks ago, UNCP dropped to fourth last week after its bye week. The regional rankings were used as a base for the seeding and selection by the national selection committee, which UNCP Director of Athletics Dick Christy was nominated to last year.
“Having the head-to-head win over North Greenville was big, to have a win over a ranked team. Having one loss obviously playing a 10-game slate was important that we didn’t have two slip ups,” Christy said. “The fact we were able to go 9-1 and that was a close road loss definitely helped our resume.”
In the program’s two previous trips to the playoffs, UNCP was on the wrong end of lopsided scores. Becoming the youngest program in NCAA Division II history to make the playoffs in its third year in 2009, the Braves traveled to Arkansas Tech and lost 41-13. In 2013, the Braves were a No. 2 and received a first-round bye before losing to North Alabama 37-13 behind six turnovers.
This is the second time in program history the Braves will play at Valdosta State. In the previous appearance, UNCP won 34-29. Valdosta handed the Braves their last home loss back in 2014.
“That brings me more comfort as a head coach knowing that I’ve been there before, we’ve played there before and won there before so there’s some familiarity with that,” Richardson said. “
With the two previous playoff appearances coming for UNCP under former head coach Pete Shinnick, the Braves encounter postseason play for the first time under Richardson at the helm. Richardson served as defensive coordinator on the previous two NCAA playoff trips and the experiences learned is something he’s taking forward.
“The last time two times we sat in this position I think I was a little more nervous and excited and wondering what the process looked like. That actually gave me valuable experience coming into this situation today,” Richardson said.
UNCP defeated two NCAA playoff teams this season in North Greenville and Winston-Salem State.
Contact Jonathan Bym on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.