PEMBROKE — The perfect home record the last two seasons that The University of North Carolina at Pembroke football team has amassed sometimes slips the mind of coach Shane Richardson, but he is quickly reminded when he does forget about it.
“Sometimes I forget about it, but the players take notice and they take a lot of pride in it,” he said. “They like coming out and they know how important it is for the school and the community. They don’t want to let the people down. It should be fun to go out and defend that.”
Since the Braves last home loss 1,027 days ago when it closed the 2014 season in a 36-7 loss to Valdosta State, they have gone 10-0 at Grace P. Johnson Stadium, starting with a 17-7 win at home on a Thursday night against Winston-Salem State. UNCP is back in that situation again tonight with what has become a rivalry among the two in-state programs as the Rams come to Pembroke for a 3 p.m. kickoff in an effort to avoid thunderstorms that are expected to roll in on Thursday night.
This trip is the third time Winston-Salem State has traveled to open the season against the Braves on a Thursday in the last five seasons. The Braves are 2-0 in those games.
Just like always, Richardson knows what meeting up with the Rams entails.
“They’re always going to have guys that are big, that are fast, that are athletic. They are very sound in what they do,” the fourth-year coach said. “I think it’s always going to be a battle with those guys because it’s turned into such a great rivalry. We look forward to a team to come in here and give us everything they have. We expect no less.”
While the Braves are filling the pieces of players who departed either by graduation or transfer this offseason, the Rams return 16 starters off its CIAA championship-winning team from a year ago. The team’s leading passer, rusher, receiver and tackler comes back as well.
While there’s experience all across the board, what always stands out to Richardson is the size in the trenches.
“Each year, they bring good size up front,” Richardson said. “Obviously, you’ve got to win things in the trenches and they do a really, really good job of that, and they have really good skill guys.”
Leading the defensive front going up against an inexperienced offensive line from the Braves is junior defensive end Jarell Bright, coming off a 40-tackle, 12-sack season in 2016.
Rod Tinsley returns at quarterback after throwing for 1,773 yards and 18 touchdowns, junior running back Kerrion Moore rushed for 1,059 and nine touchdowns and sophomore Will Walton had a team-best 457 yards receiving.
Making sure there are no self-inflicted errors is the main focus for the Braves this week. Richardson also noted a different feel the staff has created after flipping a switch in practice from preseason camp mode to game week mode.
“Coming out of camp we took a step when we decided to actually lock in after the last scrimmage and realize it was game week,” he said. “I think there’s a great sense of urgency and seriousness from the guys that are going to be out there on Thursday night.”
The university partnered with teams4taps for military appreciation night. Retired and current members of the armed forces will be admitted free with a valid military ID, and weather permitting there will be a flyover and veteran jump team pregame.
Four TAPS families will each be paired with a captain from the UNCP football team who will honor each family’s fallen hero during the game by wearing the initials of their family’s fallen hero on their helmet.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.