Williams, who spent his prep playing days at Pine Forest High School in Fayetteville, knows firsthand the local ties surrounding the two teams — over 30 total players on the UNCP and FSU rosters hail from a cluster of area counties: Robeson, Cumberland, Richmond, Scotland, Hoke and Moore.
Moreover, factor in the bragging rights that Williams and the Braves are trying to uphold and the Broncos are eager to overtake. UNCP has won all three previous meetings with FSU in what has been dubbed the Two Rivers Classic.
But, perhaps most importantly, heading into Saturday’s 6 p.m. kickoff at UNCP’s Grace P. Johnson Stadium, both teams are looking for their first wins of 2012. In last weekend’s openers, the Braves took a 28-23 loss to No. 9 Winston-Salem State while the Broncos fell 54-31 to Division I FCS North Carolina Central.
“I’m from Fayetteville, so obviously it’s special for me,” Williams said of the matchup with FSU. “I’ve got a lot of friends and family that will come to see it, but at the same time, as our coach says, it’s not who we play, it’s how we play.”
The Braves have played especially well in all four meetings between the two schools separated by 47 miles. A fact the Broncos haven’t forgotten.
“Since we haven’t won one of these games yet,” FSU linebacker Bryce Williams said, “I think people around here are talking about how we got to get them this time. It would mean a lot to get the first win (of the season) and the first win of this rivalry.”
A one-sided rivalry so far.
Last season the Braves, who have outscored the Broncos 113-61 in the series, squeezed out a 33-27 win at FSU’s Luther “Nick” Jeralds Stadium. The year prior, the team’s first clash on Pembroke’s home turf, the Braves put on a 39-0 clinic. The series’ real showstopper was the inaugural bout, which UNCP claimed, 41-34, in double-overtime.
“When we’re 3-0 (against FSU) we come in with confidence and motivation that we have a chance,” Williams said. “But at the same time we want to play this game like we haven’t won (against them) yet.”
Another reminder Coach Shinnick is embedding into the Braves’ psyche heading into Saturday.
“The last three years we’ve been fortunate enough to come out on top. We have a tremendous amount of respect for the Broncos,” Shinnick said. “They were very close to beating an FCS program in their opening week.”
Thanks in-part to the Broncos special teams making an early imprint on the 2012 season. FSU scored its first touchdown against N.C. Central when Joseph McLean blocked a punt and Chris Person fell on the ball in the end zone, and later lit the board when Michael Johnson took a 94-yard kick return to the house.
“I thought our guys performed well on special teams and hopefully we can continue do well in that area,” FSU head coach Kenny Phillips said. “Unfortunately, we haven’t cracked the ‘W’ side of this series yet. Hopefully things will change this week.”
Additionally, last week FSU got a spark from backup quarterback Chauncey Concepcion who threw for 141 yards — and an interception — on 14-of-18 passing and rushed in a touchdown. He stepped in for starter Andreas Hudson who made his first start since 2010 after missing all of last season with an injury. In limited action, Hudson added 58 yards on 6-of-7 passing.
“Chauncey is one of those guys that can give a defense a headache,” Phillips said of the sophomore. “When things break down he’s got enough savvy about himself to get himself out of trouble and make a play.”
Same can be said for UNCP quarterback Luke Charles. In Week 1, Charles flung for 281 yards on 32-of-46 passing and two touchdowns. Slightly marring his performance were two uncharacteristic interceptions — he was picked off just seven times all last year.
Hauling in both of Charles’ touchdown tosses was the Fayetteville native Williams, who opened the season with a whopping eight catches for 127 yards.
“We want to come out and score on the first drive,” Williams said. “We try to score every time we’re on the field. We don’t want to wait until we’re behind 21 points and trying to catch up. That’s not the way our offense works.”
The Braves, who racked up 391 offensive yards in Week 1, are hoping to keep the pace against the Broncos on Saturday inside a packed Grace P. Johnson Stadium.
“We’ve been fortunate with this game to have some record crowds,” Shinnick said. “We’re looking for a great home atmosphere. Our guys love playing at home, they love being on our grass, so we’re excited for what this game holds for us.”