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Local rivalry brings new meaning to Braves’ football

By Matt Smith
Sports Editor

Photo by Kayla Pearson

UNCP defensive back JD Douglas and linebacker Anthony McDonald gather around the Two Rivers trophyThere is an old sport’s saying that states that if you’re a champion, you have “it” in your heart.

Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to have a champion’s mentality brought out of you, as the Black and Gold football team found out in a 41-34 double overtime win in the inaugural Two Rivers Classic.

In their third season, it’s hard to say that the Braves have played in a truly meaningful football game yet. No conference games, no conference championships and no postseason play.

But on Aug. 29, the Black and Gold figured out what the saying, “Play like a champion,” means, and they found it thanks to a new rival, the Fayetteville State Broncos.

What’s in a rivalry?

With the UNCP football team picking up momentum in 2008 with a nine win season and with just 47 miles separating Pembroke and Fayetteville, the Two Rivers Classic seemed like a natural fit for an established football power and an up-and-coming program.

Rivalries between schools are defined by their close roximities, and with many players coming from the Robeson and Cumberland county areas, the two schools were a perfect fit for each other.

Even though the rivalry game is in its first year, the UNCP players and coaching staff are already seeing the foundation building for a timeless annual matchup.“

A rivalry is when you have two teams that for some reason just hate each other,” Black and Gold quarterback Cory Smith said. “Rivalry games are made over time and the hits are hard, the crowds are bigger and louder and it just makes [the game] more fun.”

While it may be hard to hate the Broncos just yet, a few more close games may change the feel of the rivalry in a few years.

But for now as the rivalry grows, some players, like UNCP wide receiver LJ Johnson, look at the game as just another battle.

“To me, it’s just another game,” Johnson said. “It may mean a lot as far as bragging rights in the surrounding areas, but it’s just another game that I want to win.

“There is a little more on the table because unlike the other games there is a trophy involved. It will forever be written in history.

” With trophies, postseason hopes and recruiting battles on the line in future matchups, you can be sure that the growing rivalry will soon be worth more than just a few bragging rights.

“I think the rivalry will be good not only for our program, but for the school as well,” Smith said. “I think it could" grow into a huge rivalry overtime.

Coach’s perspective

Although bragging rights and trophies hold special places in the player’s hearts, sometimes the head men in charge have as much excitement as the athletes who take the field in rivalry games.

Black and Gold head coach Pete Shinnick echoed this sentiment in his comments leading up to the rivalry game, saying "It adds a little more excitement to the preparation,” Shinnick said. “You try to treat it like every other game, but it always adds a little more excitement to that game.”

Shinnick’s enthusiasm comes from the fact that the fresh rivalry matches him up with a CIAA power, and the Broncos have won back to back CIAA football championships in 2002 and 2003.

The Broncos came into the contest ranked No. 24 in the NCAA Division II polls, and that kind of experience added into a rivalry game helps to make the team better prepared throughout the season.

“I think [the rivalry] will help by adding attention to our program,” Shinnick said. “FSU is a
playoff team and has had great success over the years.”

So for Shinnick, the matchup is a success.

The head coach gets his team prepared with a local power, all while
basking in the glory of a classic rivalry game every season, and if that wasn’t enough, local high school players throughout the Southeast watch the two teams play, possibly having a role in where they play college ball one day.

Extra motivation. Check

Big game success. Check.

Helping local recruiting. Check.

What more could a coach ask for?

Photo by Kayla Pearson
UNCP FansNot just a game

While the players and coaches get a taste of the rivalry on the field, it’s the fans that immortalize the battle.

In basketball, the Duke Cameron Crazies campout for weeks to get tickets to games against their cross town rivals the North Carolina Tar Heels.

In football, North Carolina paints the NC State Free Expression Tunnel Carolina Blue to amp up their fans.

Fans are necessary in a rivalry game. They create it, they thrive on it.

The Two Rivers Classic is no different. “The rivalry game was amazing,” UNCP junior Stephanie French said. “I felt like I was back in high school. It was so electrifying.”

To add to the game, Fayetteville State hosted numerous fan events to excite both the Bronco and Brave crowds.

Fan events

On Aug. 27, FSU hosted the Two Rivers Youth Experience.

The event was a NFLstyle Punt, Pass and Kick competition open to boys and girls ages 8-15 years old in the surrounding areas.

Along with the children’s competition, the Two Rivers Golf Tournament was held in Fayetteville at the Baywood Golf Club on Aug. 28.

The captain’s choice tournament had a $65 entry fee and allowed for fans of the two schools to get in a little extra competition before the game’s kickoff.

The event’s activities capped off with an after game party at Club N’ Motion in Fayetteville, with buses for the two schools taking fans to the sponsored dance after the game.

With the fanfare and events molded into an exciting football game, UNCP fans made sure that the rivalry would develop as long as the two teams played each other. Rivalries are born, not made.

They take time to build, but when they grow they flourish into something that is more than a game.

It’s about pride. As long as Pembroke and Fayetteville sit between the Lumber and Pee Dee rivers, a battle will continue to grow. “Fans will be anxious to see the matchup for years to come,” Johnson said.

A rivalry is building. Can you feel it?

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The University of North Carolina at Pembroke The print edition of The Pine Needle
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Updated: Thursday, September 3, 2009
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