PEMBROKE — The parade, bonfire, events and parties carry a little less weight in the eyes of coach Shane Richardson if The University of North Carolina at Pembroke football team is unable to win its home finale on Saturday.
The homecoming week hoopla is what Richardson and his staff have tried to make sure the team is able to separate from when it’s between the lines going up against Lenoir-Rhyne.
It starts with focus to make sure the reunion of students, families and alumni isn’t spoiled.
“We’ve just got to make sure we ingrain it into ourselves to know that if we don’t play our best on Saturday then the homecoming activities and stuff don’t mean a whole lot,” Richardson said. “We’ve got to make sure to stay focused and teach guys how important it is to take it a day at a time.”
UNCP (1-6) kicks off against Lenoir-Rhyne (3-4) tomorrow at 4 p.m. as both the homecoming and senior day for the Braves that also are looking to make sure it avoids going winless at home for a season for the first time in program history. With it being the last home game for the seven-member senior class, there has been an extra emphasis on making sure that a win comes in front of the home crowd.
“They know how important this year is to just get one win at home,” Richardson said. “We’ve had a strong tradition of winning at home so they definitely want to do it and those guys really practiced hard and locked in that their time is coming to an end. You can see that in their habits and how they are moving around.”
The Bears have had an up and down ride this year, alternating between wins and losses for the last four weeks. Nelson Brown has rushed for 112 yards per game this year for the Lenoir-Rhyne offense that out-rushes its opponents by 12 yards per contest.
On defense, opponents have thrown for over 200 yards five times this seasons, a mark that UNCP has surpassed three times, but two times have come in the last two outings.
“They’re a solid team and they present challenges in of themselves,” Richardson said. “We’ve got to make sure to play fast and physical with a good mentality with some energy.”
Last week against Concord, UNCP was held down by three turnovers that killed its chances in the 31-22 loss. Quarterback Dominick Samson threw and Miles Grant fumbled in the fourth quarter. Concord also rushed for 157 yards.
“We had a lot of good plays, but there were some plays that also kind of hurt us. Ball security is an issue we talked about coming out of the game, on defense we’ve got to make sure to stop the run,” Richardson said. “Those are the two main areas, one on each side of the ball that we can really do a better job in. That was the tell tale part of the game.”
While the run defense struggled for the Braves, the offense was able to take advantage of the poor run defense from the Mountain Lions with 171 yards and two touchdowns. Grant led all rushers with 71 yards and Josh Sheridan added 66.
“Running the ball last weekend was something we did well and it gave a lot of guys confidence. We can look forward to them having another good game, really all encompassing,” Richardson said. “I want to see guys finishing blocks and running the ball and holding onto the ball.”
The Braves won the only meeting with the Bears last year in Hickory, 36-20.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.