PEMBROKE — With the bye week splitting The University of North Carolina at Pembroke football team’s schedule in half, the second half of the season for the Braves starts Saturday.
UNCP (1-5) takes its longest road trip of the season to Concord (1-6) for a noon kickoff in Athens, W.Va. Coach Shane Richardson said that how the Braves end this final four-game stretch could spell how momentum will go into the offseason.
“It’s a good opportunity for us to come down the stretch and make every opportunity count,” Richardson said. “The way we finish is going to be something that can define us and we want to finish well.”
The team was given the weekend off for the off week it had last weekend, and it resulted in more refreshment shown by the players that returned on Monday.
“I think guys came back pretty good and energized,” Richardson said. “They have a good appreciation of where we are at and what we have going down the stretch here and what the possibility is.”
Richardson expects both squads to be hungry in search of the second win, but there has been no talks about the Mountain Lions and their record. Last year, the Braves had playoff hopes on their minds and pulled out a 19-18 win over Concord, which was 2-8, in the season finale.
Concord’s lone win of this season came over UVA-Wise in Week 3, the week after UNCP earned its only win over Elizabeth City State.
“I think that’s definitely a possibility,” Richardson said of the hunger both one-win teams might have in this game. “We haven’t been talking much about their record and not much about them at all. What we need to do is make sure that we are focusing on ourselves and we are sticking to great habits.”
This road trip is the longest the Braves have been on this year and will be second to the trip to Carson-Newman to end the season. Richardson said earlier this season how he likes the bonding and feel that comes with road games. Also saying that the over four-hour trip will not be too much for UNCP to overcome.
“We haven’t had an overnight game since Week 2 so we’ve got to be able to adjust to that and I expect we will keep our focus as we go up there to play our best for four quarters,” he said.
Concord leads its opponents in the turnover battle this year, 14-10, but its glaring weakness has came in running the ball and then stopping the run on defense. Opponents have rushed for 247 yards per game, while the Mountain Lions average less than 73 yards per game on the ground.
The Braves have not fared much better running the ball at 98 yards per game, but that’s an area they look to take advantage of.
“I hope our offensive line and our running backs can work together and stay on blocks and take advantage of the opportunities they give us,” Richardson said. “We’ve had a good week of practice. I think we have guys that are focused and I really want to see them working hard and going full speed to the whistle.”
Both teams also have struggled on third down this year, with the Braves converting at a 27 percent success rate to Concord’s 26 percent.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.