PEMBROKE — As soon as it was announced that The University of North Carolina at Pembroke was on the football schedule for Catawba, Patrick O’Brien circled the date.
The former UNCP quarterback that transferred to Catawba didn’t circle it as a way to target his former team, but rather as a game that he wanted to get out of the way. On Saturday night he got the game out of the way and earned a win at Grace P. Johnson Stadium, a place he is improved to 11-0 at during his career, in a 41-9 win for the Indians.
“I was definitely happy and excited to play against (UNCP) Coach (Shane) Richardson here, and definitely glad to get it out of the way,” he said. “It’s a great feeling to come in here and be 11-0 in Grace P. (Johnson Stadium).”
The senior quarterback used three touchdown passes in the first half and the legs of his senior running back to make sure his record stayed unblemished at UNCP’s home field, finishing the game going 18-26 with 180 yards and four touchdowns passes.
“It was comfortable, but the defensive line made it uncomfortable at times,” O’Brien said. “After the first touchdown, I started to settle in.”
While the Catawba (3-0) offense led by O’Brein moved fluidly for most of the game and produced 5.2 yards per play, the opposite was true for the Braves. Eamon Smart rushed for 109 yards to help out the offensive load.
UNCP (1-2) struggled offensively with its only two scoring chances coming on short fields thanks to miscues. After Catawba went up 10-0 early in first quarter, the Braves fought back. Josh Sheridan scored on a 29-yard touchdown run that came after a punt that hit a Indian player and the Braves recovered, and an interception by Shawn Everett set up a 26-yard Alex Alvarado field goal to cut the lead to 10-9 in the first quarter.
From there the offensive woes really hit. UNCP’s longest offensive drive of the game was 35 yards and it was 3-for-16 on first downs. Richardson based the stagnant on youth in several positions, and losing the turnover battle 4-2.
“It starts with the quarterback and Dominick Samson is still three games into his college career and Dom’s got to continue to be a leader, make decision and throw the ball a lot better,” he said. “Everybody just has to execute a little better I think.”
UNCP also had two offensive linemen that started the season on the left side of the line go down and the inconsistency of the front made it hard to get into a rhythm.
“Right now our offensive line, we need to be a little more stout in there and make sure we are coaching those guys better to give us a chance offensively,” Richardson said. “Whenever you have injuries, it starts to mess up the rhythm a little bit, especially on the offensive line.”
Sheridan led all rushers for the Braves with 48 yards and noticed a different feel up front setting the blocks for him.
“We knew the offensive line that was stepping in for the injured people weren’t getting a lot of reps in practice so we had to adjust the process and encourage them,” Sheridan said.
O’Brien connected with Kenyatta Greene for a 20-yard touchdown pass midway through the second quarter and a second touchdown from O’Brien in the second quarter made it a 24-9 halftime lead for the Indians.
The Indians also picked up a defensive score in the second half as Samson was picked off by Cris Page that led to a touchdown in the third quarter and push the lead to 31-9. Page had another interception in the fourth quarter as well that was the third of the game for Samson, after avoiding throwing picks in the first two games.
“You can’t throw three interceptions. We need to take care of the ball better,” Richardson said.
UNCP hosts Tusculum on Saturday and Catawba hosts Mars Hill.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.