PEMBROKE — For the last seven years, the Two Rivers Classic game against Fayetteville State has been a staple on The University of North Carolina at Pembroke football team’s schedule, but Saturday’s matchup at 7 p.m. in Pembroke is the end of a one-sided, head-to-head series that has the makeup of a rivalry, but lacks one major key that all rivalries have.
Everything of the UNCP-Fayetteville State matchup has a feel of a rivalry with the build up from both athletic programs, proximity of the campuses, the intertwined recruiting battles, competitive games, and even a trophy, but it lacks one trait that should be a requirement for a it to be called a rivalry — parity. The average margin of victory between the Braves and Broncos has been just under 12 points, with a 39-0 score in 2010 skewing the data a bit. Take away that meeting and the average margin goes to a touchdown, but the first in the series has eluded the Broncos.
“Even though we’ve had great success and I’m thankful for that, it’s something where we get up for it because it’s local,” said UNCP coach Shane Richardson, who feels the game is a rivalry. “We’ve got a lot of kids from that area. It’s definitely a recruiting battle and it’s definitely bragging rights for the area and the 910. We certainly look at it as a very, very important game.”
First-year Fayetteville State head coach Richard Hayes — who previously served on the staff at Winston-Salem State for five seasons — feels that the uneven results over the past seven years makes the rivalry label for the series is a bit foggy.
“We’ve never beat those guys so I’m not sure if their guys see it as a rivalry or if our guys really see it as a rivalry,” he said. “I guess it is some form of a rivalry with the two teams being so close together.”
With an expiring scheduling contract, scheduling for the foreseeable future of the Two Rivers Classic won’t happen with the Braves starting their four-year scheduling alliance with the South Atlantic Conference. Even with a 7-0 series record favoring UNCP, the end of Two Rivers Classic is a loss for both programs logistics wise with the proximity aiding travel budgets and also providing some of the biggest crowds of each year for both programs, both of which would help out the budgets of both departments.
The perfect record against the Broncos is something that Richardson is making sure his team has tuned out come kickoff. After all, you’ve still got to win the game no matter what has happened in the past and he is a firm believer in it.
“It’s something we try and coach into our guys that it matters nothing what has gone on in the past,” Richardson said. “We’re not trying to let our guard down at all.”
After finding success rushing outside of the tackles in the late stages of its 20-17 win in Winston-Salem last weekend, the Braves will be up against another stout run defense that held Chowan to negative yardage rushing the ball and collected 75 yards off of tackles for loss in the season opener. The Braves with an experienced offensive front will look to create a force on the ground after 158 rushing yards against Winston-Salem State.
“We’re confident in our run game so we’re always going to always try and establish the run no matter what,” Richardson said. “Obviously, if they are taking away something we are going to have to figure out something else.”
Chowan took advantage of four turnovers from Fayetteville State, a missed extra point, a missed field goal and a blocked field goal attempt to claim a close 14-13 win.
“We can’t turn the ball over and expect to win the game,” Hayes said. “Our defense did good to hold our opponent to 100 yards of total offense, but the turnovers hurt us.”
“I really anticipate they’re going to be hungry after last week,” Richardson said.
While turnovers were the demise of Fayetteville State, the Rams’ miscues fueled UNCP’s comeback with a third-quarter interception providing a spark for the Braves to a 17-point second half.
UNCP’s defense will also look to stop three skill weapons in running back Stevie Green, quarterback DeMarius Davis and receiver Gedari Liverman. Richardson sees that these three players are dangerous in the open field.
“I think they’ve got three guys right there that if any of those three guys have the ball in their hands they are legitimate threats,” Richardson said. “We’re going to have to really swarm the ball.”
After falling in a 17-0 hole in the first half and taking nearly the whole first half to put points on the scoreboard, Richardson hopes the Braves come out more aggressive.
“One of the things is we’ve got to start a lot faster,” Richardson said. “We can’t get into a hole of playing behind and trying to figure out what adversity looks like and then respond to it. It would be nice to be able to establish some momentum and really sustain that momentum.”
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.