PEMBROKE — Going up against an undefeated Wingate football team on the road in a night game, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke football team isn’t buying into the shock-the-world mentality.
The Braves (1-4) have struggled the last three weeks to put up points, while their opponents have done the opposite. It was a far from ideal start to the season for UNCP, but going into the Wingate game it takes a new-week mentality.
“I don’t know if it would shock the world, but we would certainly surprise a lot of people that are sleeping on us,” UNCP coach Shane Richardson said. “Honestly I don’t think we are as bad of a team as our record indicates. I told the guys that 1-4 doesn’t define who we are. We can choose who we want to be each and every week.”
The second road trip of three straight games kicks off at 6 p.m. tomorrow as the Braves take on regional foe Wingate (4-0) for the first time since 2014.
Last week at Newberry, UNCP lost 28-6 in the third straight game where its offense put up one touchdown. The lone score came on its third drive of the game when freshman quarterback Dominick Samson connected with JoJo Spann for a 40-yard touchdown pass.
Much like the Tusculum loss, an early turnover resulted in UNCP’s opponents coming away with points. Last Saturday it was an interception on the first play from scrimmage that led to a Wolves’ score two plays later. That punch that was dealt early last week to the Braves is what Richardson wants to have his team to be on the other end of this week.
“We’ve got to throw the first punch and sometimes we might have the mentality of feeling our way through and we’re not as aggressive as we need to be,” he said. “It definitely needs to set the tone so we can create some things early on so we can not allow ourselves to play from behind.”
For the third week in a row, Samson had a multi-interception outing against Newberry. Richardson said that Samson is still the starting quarterback despite his struggles in recent weeks. The quarterback position lost some depth this week with Samson’s backup, Connor Stough, out with an injury this week, leaving Samson and freshman Auston Foley as the starter and back up.
True freshman Joshua Dale is the third string quarterback, but is being redshirted and would have the redshirt pulled if he goes in for even one play the rest of the year.
The Bulldogs’ defense has held teams to 20 points per game and has forced nine turnovers this season.
While the offense looks to post more than two touchdowns since the Elizabeth City State game, the defense eyes to continue its growth after holding the Wolves to 28 points, the second lowest total of any UNCP opponent this season.
“There’s been a lot more focus and guys having the sense of urgency to fix their mistakes,” Richardson said. “I anticipate that our defense will take a right direction here soon and I’m excited to watch them play.
To this point, opponents have rushed for 154 yards per game against the Braves and Wingate senior running back Lawrence Pittman will be the point man for the run defense to slow down. He comes into tomorrow’s game averaging 93 yards rushing per game and five touchdowns, while his quarterback, sophomore James Whitaker, has completed 60 percent of his passes.
The Braves are 1-3 at Irwin Belk Stadium, which had lights installed this season and is having its second night game in program history.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.