Photo by Tashieka Hammond
Quarterback Cory Smith takes a snap for UNCP early in the first quarter of the Braves’ 31-21 victory over Webber International. Smith completed 8-of-16 passes for 144 yards and a 28-yard touchdown pass to Keith Farrington. UNCP’s victory evened its record at 3-3 this season and gave the Braves back-to-back victories.
UNCP celebrates homecoming with a 31-21 win over Webber International
By Brad Crawford
Consecutive wins are nice, but a homecoming victory is that much sweeter.
In their first homecoming game in over half a century, UNCP was victorious over Webber International 31-21, in front of a record crowd of 4,400 on Oct. 6.
The Braves (3-3) held on to win after leading 21-14 at halftime, aided by a Cory Smith 28-yard touchdown pass and a Keith Gore plunge from one yard out.
UNCP head coach Pete Shinnick couldn’t be any happier with the way his defense played, after forcing five turnovers and scoring a defensive touchdown on a Troy Russell 29-yard interception return.
“Our defense played exceptionally well and bailed out our offense on a few occasions,” said Shinnick.
“I’m excited for our program and this was a great win. For our team to be able to hold a lead after halftime and get the win, that’s huge for us,” he added.
Russell’s touchdown broke a 14-14 tie with 1:39 remaining in the first quarter, giving UNCP an early lead it would never relinquish.
“The (WIU) quarterback lets go of the football really quickly and I just moved back, making sure the receiver didn’t get between me and the ball,” Russell said.
UNCP running back Brandon McLaurin carried the ball 23 times for 100 yards, hitting the 100-yard barrier for the second consecutive game.
The tailback is coming off a 137-yard effort in a win against Chowan on Sept. 29, earning him Independents Collegiate Athletic Association co-offensive player of the week accolades.
“I’m just trying to do whatever coach Shinnick asks of me,” McLaurin said. “We have alot of talented players on this team and I’m just glad I have an opportunity to play.” See related story B7.
Despite allowing 155 yards on the ground and two touchdowns to Webber International freshman running back Taylor Atwood, UNCP’s defense stiffened in the second half allowing only one touchdown drive.
Atwood lost two fumbles in the second half, his last coming in the fourth quarter triggering a 31-yard field goal from UNCP kicker Andrew Williams.
“We didn’t move the ball in the second half like we did in the first,” Atwood said. “I tried to hold onto the ball tight but fumbles can occur sometimes and I just lost them.”
Coach Shinnick was glad to see the UNCP kicking game make huge strides from its previous five games, scoring seven points on four extra points and Williams’ fourth quarter field goal.
“I was excited about our field goal and kicking game overall,” Shinnick said. “I’m happy for our coaches and players for winning back-to-back games.”
Williams is now 2-4 this season on field goal attempts. A 41-yarder is his longest.
Webber International (2-4) head coach Kelly Scott said he believed his team underestimated UNCP and will go back to the drawing board later this week.
“Our team played complacent in the first half and UNCP wound up kicking our butts,” said Scott. “I’ll tell you one thing, we’ll be ready for the Braves when they come to Florida next year. I don’t think our guys will take UNCP lightly any longer.”
Scott said his team’s three fumbles and two interceptions were costly and that the UNCP defense must be given credit.
“Coach Shinnick had his guys ready to play today,” said Scott. “We turn the ball over too many times and a good team always takes advantage.”
Scott also appreciated UNCP’s new sports facilities and believed football has a place to stay in Pembroke, N.C.
“What a great atmosphere for a college football game,” said Scott. “For Pembroke to be a first-year program and already have this large of a fan base and this amount of media coverage, it’s truly amazing. As long as the media provides alot of good press toward this (UNCP) football team, it will go a long way in years to come.”