PEMBROKE — When the University of North Carolina at Pembroke football team takes the field at McPherson Stadium on Saturday afternoon to battle Central State, it will mark the first road game in 41 days.
As a result of the damage Hurricane Florence left behind in the Carolinas, UNCP (1-3) was forced to cancel back-to-back away games at Catawba and Tusculum.
Coach Shane Richardson preached to his team about the importance of being steadfast despite the odd circumstances they’ve been dealt in the early going.
“You just have to continue to attack adversity and be able to make the best of it, and stay disciplined in what you’re doing,” he said.
The forecast in Wilberforce, Ohio during the 1 p.m. kickoff calls for mid-50’s and more importantly, partly sunny skies. So if that holds, the Braves will have finally overcome their issues with Mother Nature. Now, they just have to figure out how to solve their problems on the gridiron to end a two-game losing streak in which they’ve been outscored 71-7.
After the 51-7 loss to Wingate last week, Richardson said guys “needed to take practice more seriously.” He says this week, he noticed a better sense of urgency and more attention to detail that he hopes will produce positive results come game time.
Central State (2-4) has lost its last two games and averages just over 14 points per contest. The defense gives up nearly 22 points per game. The matchup could come down to which team can take care of the ball and convert on third down. The Braves have converted 34 percent of their third-down opportunities, while the Marauders have been successful on just 28 percent of theirs.
“Third down and red zones are key components that we talk about on a weekly basis both offensively and defensively. During the course of a game, those two areas can either really be a great reflection of how well you’re playing, or can really hurt you,” Richardson said.
Braves running back Josh Sheridan sees the majority of snaps on third downs and red zone tries because of his knack for making tacklers miss, and finding creases to make positive plays. He leads the team with four rushing touchdowns and has the group’s only score in the past two games. Sheridan did lose a fumble last week against Wingate, however, so he and the rest of the offense have to hold on to the pigskin this week if they want to take advantage of a turnover-prone team.
The Marauders boast a decent front seven, led by linebacker Kailen Abrams who has a team-high 68 tackles and two forced fumbles. They’ve had their share of turnover issues, led by quarterback Trent Mays who has thrown 10 interceptions to just six touchdowns.
For Central State, Saturday also marks its annual homecoming game, an extra incentive to end its two-game slide. But Richardson feels like his team can use that to their advantage due to the amplified atmosphere.
“I think our guys like that challenge. We want to go in there and have a sense of pride and really show them what UNCP football is all about,” he said.
Donnell Coley can be reached at 910-416-5165 or by email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Sportsinmyveins.