A breakdown of the strange: The Braves’ Week 2 win over rival Fayetteville State included an hour and a half lightning delay that struck just four minutes into the game, a new experience for the six-year football program and the 24-year coach — “I’ve never sat in a locker room for an hour and 30 minutes after a game already started,” Shinnick said. A week later, last Saturday, the Braves jumped out to a 28-7 lead over Wingate but let the Bulldogs rally to tie and then take the lead in the third quarter. Showing a case of Jekyll and Hyde, UNCP promptly went on a 21-0 run the rest of the way for the road win.
Abnormalities or not, the fact is the Braves (2-1) are riding a two-game winning streak heading into their first out-of-state road game of the season when they face winless Virginia University of Lynchburg for the first meeting between the two schools at 1 p.m. Saturday at Lynchburg City Stadium.
“I’d like to get rid of the strange and make this a little more normal game, and play that way,” Shinnick said.
On paper, that shouldn’t be a tall task for the Braves. They are facing a NAIA member Virginia-Lynchburg squad that has been outscored 97-13 in its two losses — the Dragons’ Week 2 game against College of Faith was canceled — handed down by Old Dominican, 57-6, and North Carolina A&T State University, 40-7.
Meanwhile, UNCP has been lighting up the scoreboard since its season-opening loss to reigning NCAA Division II semifinalist Winston-Salem State. The Braves, coming off a season-high 49-point outburst against Wingate, are touting an average of 34.3 points a game while the much-improved defense under coordinator Shane Richardson is allowing 28 a night. Against Wingate, the Braves forced nine turnovers, including a school record seven interceptions led by Preston Perry’s two picks.
Shinnick may not have been able to predict that kind of pick-off production, but he knew his secondary had the ability to wreak havoc on the opposing passing games.
“I think we’re very capable of creating turnovers with the athletes that we got on defense,” Shinnick said. “And really, all those guys took full advantage of a quarterback (Robbie Nallenweg) who was kind of targeting a little bit with his receivers.”
The Braves secondary won’t need be on their toes as often Saturday against a run-heavy Lynchburg offense that has gone to the air just 30 percent of its possessions. The Dragons, on the other hand, are running into a UNCP offense in chain-moving rhythm with both the pass and the rush.
Following a lackluster two-pick, zero-touchdown outing in the Two Rivers Classic against FSU, Braves quarterback Luke Charles bounced back with three touchdowns and 207 yards on 22-of-34 passing at Wingate, with his only blemish being one interception. His go-to deep threat Te’vell Williams hauled in seven catches — two for touchdowns — for 72 yards.
“I’m very pleased with how he manages the game and makes plays,” Shinnick said. “We need our offense to continue to do that. We need Luke Charles to be playing at a very high level.”
Just as UNCP running back Damonte Terry has. The junior holds team-highs of 293 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 50 carries.
“He’s really giving us a pretty good punch,” Shinnick said of Terry, who is doing his best to fill the void left by Travis Daniels who graduated as UNCP’s all-time rushing leader. Elliott Powell has added 104 yards on 23 carries for the Braves this season. “I really like what we got going with our running backs. We still got to run the ball better but I like where those guys are at.”
Although their lining up against a winless Dragons squad, under second-year coach Willard Bailey, Shinnick hopes the Braves continue shaping their identities on both sides of the ball.
Not to mention, handle any adversity, whether its weather-induced or due to the strangeness of a see-saw game.
“I think we got to keep the momentum going,” he said. “We held on against Fayetteville State, we found a way to come back and win at Wingate … We got to keep the momentum going. We want to continue to be better and find ways to improve on a weekly basis.”