PEMBROKE — The University of North Carolina at Pembroke football team has had an offseason full of transition.
Pete Shinnick’s resignation to become the new leader at West Florida gave way to defensive coordinator Shane Richardson who was promoted to the position and installed two new coordinators to help continue building on the program’s recent success.
Saturday, the team put the attention back on the field as part of the annual Black and Gold Spring Game at Grace P. Johnson Stadium.
“It’s been a big transition and just a whole new experience (for them) to go through spring ball under a new offensive coaching staff, a new head coach, some new things we’re doing schematically,” Richardson said after the Gold’s 20-9 win. “They’ve been through a lot and they’ve done a great job. Every day I see that we’re getting better and guys are continually showing up with the right attitude, ready to work.”
Fans on Saturday got the first look at next season’s team, which returns nine starters but several key contributors off last season’s playoff squad.
One of the main positions up for grabs is the team’s starting quarterback spot. Three-year starter Luke Charles and backup Jonathan Efird both graduated leaving unknowns Seth Owen and Patrick O’Brien to fill the void.
Owen, a redshirt-freshman, and O’Brien, a third-stringer at Charlotte last season before transferring back to Pembroke for his junior year, had success with contrasting styles.
Owen showed his dual-threat potential during the spring game, finding open holes for long gains on quarterback keepers. He also connected on 11 of 15 pass attempts for 33 yards. O’Brien looked more the traditional passer, throwing bullets and hitting on 6 of 10 attempts for 85 yards and the game’s only two touchdowns.
Richardson said there wasn’t a clear favorite after spring ball for the starting spot.
“It’s still a constant evaluation. I think there’s a continual learning process both of them have to go through to figure out which one is really going to step up and solidify that position,” he said. “It’s a nice competition there and hopefully we can continue that because it’s making them both better.”
Andrew Goodman and Lance Price also played significant time behind center for the Black team.
O’Brien said it’s a friendly competition but also one that’s forcing improvement.
“The competition brings the best in everybody out,” O’Brien said. “Every single person pushes each quarterback in another way. Some guys can run faster, others can throw a little better. We’re all making each other better quarterbacks.”
The majority of Saturday’s points came from former Lumberton standout Connor Haskins, whose kicks accounted for 17 of the game’s 29 points. He hit five field goals — two for Gold, three for Black — two point-after kicks, and bounced one off the crossbar on a 57-yard attempt.
Returning receivers B.J. Bunn and John Rich were the Gold team’s primary targets. Bunn had seven receptions for 61 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown catch. Rich caught two for 22 yards, 19 of which came on a touchdown pass from O’Brien.
The defense from the two teams had numerous sacks and interceptions, though final defensive stats were not available. Neither team allowed a touchdown until the third quarter, when Gold scored on Bunn’s reception.
Softball splits with Flagler
PEMBROKE — Visiting Flagler registered five hits in a four-run first inning and held off a late charge to beat the UNCP softball team 8-4 in the series finale and forge a Saturday split at LRA Field.
The Braves got base hits from seven different players, including All-American Brea Hartley who turned in a 3-for-4 outing with a run scored. Megan Hillard tripled and walked twice in a 1-for-3 day at the plate and Karlee Wilson, 2-for-3, singled twice on three trips to the plate.
The loss snapped a five-game win streak for UNCP (22-22, 8-12 PBC), which will finish the regular season today against 12th-ranked Armstrong Atlantic (26-11, 11-6). The Braves need at least a split with the Pirates to stay in contention for the Peach Belt Conference tournament.
Baseball win evens series
FLORENCE, S.C. — The 15th-ranked UNCP baseball team rallied back from a 7-5 deficit in the seventh inning to score three runs in the final two frames in an 8-7 win at Francis Marion.
The Braves (29-13, 14-9 PBC) matched the school record for league wins.
Drew Cole had his career-best fifth home run of the season to lead the way for UNCP, which also got a 3-for-5 outing from Brett Huffman. Chad Whitehead also went 2-for-3 with an RBI.
Zach Andrews (3-5) grabbed his second decision of the weekend, this time picking up the win after yielding three hits and one earned run in 3-1/3 innings of relief.