PEMBROKE — The road has served The University of North Carolina at Pembroke football team relatively well this season.
One of the Braves’ two wins came on the first road trip of the season to Elizabeth City State, and the last two road contests were losses by less than 10 points. The first of those two games was a three-point loss to Wingate, who is the top team in the Super Region II rankings this week.
On the road once again for the fourth time in six weeks, UNCP (2-6) takes its fifth road trip of the year to Mars Hill (2-6) for the first time in program history with a 1 p.m. kickoff. The Braves come in looking to string two wins in a row for the first time this season.
“What we talked about after that game (Concord) is that winning is not just guaranteed, and we have to go in and earn it and prove it and fight for it,” UNCP coach Shane Richardson said. “You do that during the week in a great process in terms of your habits and preparation. On Saturdays, you’ve still got to fight and compete and earn it for four quarters.”
Both teams have had their bad stretches this season. Mars Hill is on a five-game losing streak, and the Braves snapped their five-game skid last week with a 14-10 homecoming win over Lenoir-Rhyne. That win for UNCP has added a pep to the step this week during practice.
“There’s a good vibe and it gives guys hope, gives guys confidence and gives them a little something to work off of. It grabs their attention,” Richardson said. “When you lose a few games in a row, you sort of get in a rut where you can almost form a habit of losing and you don’t know how to pull yourself out if it’s not happening on Saturdays. I think finally when you win a game like that, people start to understand that there is something we’ve got to do here.”
The Lions have allowed 463 yards per game to their opponents with that number being split about evenly among rushing and passing yards. On offense, the Braves look to continue the positive progress running the ball, with consistent rushing performances for the first time all season with 162 yards on the ground, led by Miles Grant becomes the first player this season to rush for 100 yards or more.
“If we don’t do what we are supposed to do, if we don’t block, if we don’t run, if we don’t hold onto the ball and all the stuff we are supposed to do offensively, it won’t matter,” Richardson said. “If we execute and we do what we are supposed to do, I feel really good.”
Led by senior quarterback David Salmon, the Mars Hill offense is averaging over 300 yards per game through the air and less than 100 rushing per contest. Salmon’s top target is senior receiver Keshaun Taylor, who has over 1,000 of Salmon’s 2,362 passing yards this season.
UNCP’s defense held Lenoir-Rhyne to 209 yards of total offense last week, a season best.
“I think they are tough and have good receivers and we’ve got to really be in the right spots and be aggressive when making plays on the ball,” Richardson said. “If we go up there and are not playing our game and not doing things we are supposed to do, it’s going to be trouble for us.”
Fresh off claiming the school’s career sack record last week, Tyler Hinton has a pair of school season record in reach as the Braves hit their final two-game stretch. Hinton currently has 8 1/2 sacks, with Mike Keck’s 11-sack record in reach. He also trails Keck’s record of 16 tackles for loss in a season by 3 1/2.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.