Now it's back to the drawing board for a team whose postseason aspirations are hanging by a thread after coming out flat Saturday at home.
"I've got to do a better job of getting our guys motivated because obviously it didn't work," UNCP coach Pete Shinnick said.
Charleston's Jordan Roberts ran for two touchdowns, scored on a return and threw for another during a cataclysmic first half that saw the Braves surrender two special teams scores and and a number of big plays. The sizable halftime deficit proved too much to overcome in a 42-30 loss.
"We played terrible and Charleston played fantastic," Shinnick said. "We didn't deserve to win."
The setback snapped 24th-ranked UNCP's five-game winning streak and was only the program's fifth defeat in its last 22 games at Grace P. Johnson Stadium.
Charleston (6-1) led 21-3 in the first quarter following two breakdowns in the Braves' kicking game. Roberts hit a seam and went untouched down the visiting sideline for a 100-yard kickoff return in the final minute of the opening frame. After the Golden Eagles forced a three-and-out, Isaiah Gibson burst through the line on fourth down and blocked Bill Stanley's punt on UNCP's own 30-yard line.
Ahmad Shakoor snagged the deflection out of the air, shook off a tackle and rumbled 38 yards for a commanding 18-point lead. Roberts finished with 26 carries for 144 yards on the ground for Charleston. He moved the chains on several occasions in the second half when the Braves needed a stop trailing by multiple scores.
"They wanted it and they got after it," Shinnick said. "We did a very, very poor job of executing what we wanted to get accomplished."
Trailing by as many as 19 early in the third, UNCP (5-2) cut into the deficit at the 5:09 mark when quarterback Luke Charles found Jason Perry on a 19-yard slant for a touchdown. Charles' second scoring toss of the afternoon brought the Braves within 12 at 35-23, but the Golden Eagles quickly responded.
Quarterback Maurice Leak led his team on a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that took nearly eight minutes off the clock. Roberts made the key play on the possession, a crucial 19-yard reception on 3rd-and-16 from the UNCP 32.
Leak's 3-yard keeper with 12 minutes left to play put away the Braves and solidified Charleston's third straight win.
Charles finished 27-of-50 for UNCP with 273 yards and an interception. Noticeably irritated in the fourth quarter after his team's season-high 10th drop of the game, Charles paced the sideline talking to his receivers. The drops — two would've been for touchdowns in the first quarter — were a microcosm of a disappointing effort from the Braves.
"Putting the ball in Luke's hand is never a bad deal for us," Shinnick said. "He was definitely dialed in. It might have been one of his best games if we had better execution."
Elliott Powell led UNCP on the ground with 93 yards and two touchdowns. The Braves scored on all five trips to the red zone but errors on special teams proved the difference.