PEMBROKE — All good things must come to an end.
After going two seasons without a home loss, the streak came to an end for The University of North Carolina at Pembroke football team on Thursday, but not without a little fight from the Braves.
Visiting Winston-Salem State held a three-score lead going into halftime, but UNCP scored 31 points in the second half and had a shot in the final seconds to win the game, before falling 34-31 to the Rams.
“Our team showed a lot of heart tonight. We were down 20-0 and we took it to the last play of the game. I told them there’s a lot we can build on, but there’s so many things that we left out there,” UNCP coach Shane Richardson said. “You cannot be sloppy in all three phases of the game and leave as much as we did out there and expect to win the game. I told the team I was not concerned about the loss. The loss doesn’t bother me. What bothers our coaching staff and me particularly as head coach is we didn’t execute the things that we normally do.”
No. 19 UNCP (0-1) trailed 20-0 going into halftime, and the message at the half was one of “riding the wave” that comes and goes during the game.
“You’ve just got to stick to what you know and stick to who you are and we tried to do that and settle them down,” Richardson said of the halftime message. “We told them they just have to play one play at a time and trust your process and fight, claw and scratch to get back in this game. We really did and it was great.”
On the second play from scrimmage for Winston-Salem State (1-0) in the second half, the comeback started for UNCP as Tre’von Gibson picked off Ram quarterback Rod Tinsley and returned the ball inside the Winston-Salem State 5-yard line. The turnover set up UNCP quarterback Dominick Samson’s first of two touchdown passes on a 4-yard toss to JoJo Spann.
On the Rams next possession, the defense forced a three-and-out and the snap on the following punt went over the head of Dillon Griffith and Jordan Howard recovered the ball to cut the lead to 20-13.
The Braves kept riding the wave after Kerrion Moore scored from a yard out on Winston-Salem State’s next drive to push the lead out to 27-13 heading into the final quarter.
An Alex Alvarado 38-yard field goal, followed by a 18-yard inside draw from freshman running back Jo Leake made it a four-point game, 27-23, with four minutes to play. Moore came back with another score to respond to the Braves cutting the lead down when he scored on a 59-yard rush on the first play from scrimmage following the Leake score.
Moore had 19 rushed for 230 yards with three touchdowns.
The Braves refused to go down quietly when Samson tossed a six-yard touchdown to E.J. Williams with 2:52 left. Williams played his first three seasons at Winston Salem State with less than three minutes remaining, making the score 34-31. Williams led the Braves with six receptions and 53 yards.
Samson, in his UNCP debut, went 27-for-40 with 209 yards and two touchdowns. The most important stat for him was no turnovers.
“There were a few nerves to start off, but what it comes down to is it’s just football,” Samson said. “I just wanted to play a turnover-free game. It’s one of the goals we set every week. I felt like we did that and I wanted to get the ball in the hands of our playmakers.”
Samson and the UNCP offense took over for three plays inside Ram territory with less than 30 seconds remaining and took two shots deep that were batted down.
Richardson also was pleased with how his quarterback played in his first collegiate action.
“For a guy that has only redshirted with our program and went out there in the first game of the season in a good matchup, he performed very well,” he said.
The Rams struck fast and struck early with two touchdowns on its first two drives. The first, came at the end of a two-play, 89-yard drive that Moore finished off with a 40-yard touchdown run. East Bladen grad Farrell Murchinson scored the following drive on a one-yard touchdown run. With seconds remaining in the first half, Tinsley connected with Canard Brown on a wide-open 73-yard touchdown pass to push the score to 20-0 at the intermission.
“That was three big plays that equalled 21 points. You just can’t do that,” Richardson said.
UNCP was held to 28 rushing yards in the contest and was unable to control the line of scrimmage. It’s defensive line, a strong point of the team, did not record a sack and had five tackles for loss. On the other side, the Rams sacked Samson four times and pressured the backfield for much of the game.
The Braves return to action on the road at Elizabeth City State and Winston-Salem State travels to Bowie State next Saturday.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.