PEMBROKE — At this point, it’s hard to rule the No. 18 University of North Carolina at Pembroke football team out of any game.
Two weeks into the season, the Braves have already faced plenty of adversity and come out with wins.
In the season opener, UNCP allowed 21 unanswered points and trailed late in the third quarter only to come back and win. Last weekend at Fayetteville State, it was a similar situation as the Braves trailed by 10 points at halftime only to outscore the Broncos 24-0 in the second half.
“That is always fun for your team to be able to answer somebody else’s call during the game,” UNCP coach Pete Shinnick said. “I think this team is learning how to work together and this team is growing.”
It’s growth that will be tested this week as the Braves continue a series of games in the spotlight. After playing the first week on national television and the second against a major rival, Week 3 will send UNCP to Wilmington for a neutral-site game against Shaw University.
The inaugural Cape Fear Classic brings college football back to the coastal city and serves as the finale for a week that has been filled with events. It started with a 5K fun run/walk last weekend and continued throughout the week with a health fair, a golf tournament, a banquet for teams, a step show and a scholarship dance tonight.
The week helps raise money for the Cape Fear Classic Foundation, was formed last year to provide scholarships and programs for under-served youth in Wilmington, as well as provide funding for other organizations that help youth.
It keeps the spotlight on the Braves, giving the team attention that Shinnick says his team has done well embracing.
“I think it’s worked out really well for us,” he said. “The fact that were having the opportunity to garner that attention, it works out well.”
With the attention comes a challenge.
Both UNCP and Shaw enter the game 2-0 with quality wins under their respective belts.
Shaw has received votes in the national poll, but Shinnick said that alone doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be deserving of a spot.
“Early season it’s very difficult to get in the polls if you aren’t already in,” Shinnick said. “They’re as good a team as we’ve seen so far.”
The Bears have racked up 77 point in their first two games, a 44-14 win against Charleston (W.V.) and a 33-21 victory against Virginia Union.
The basis of it is a balanced attack that’s put together 467.5 yards per game, split nearly equally between the run and the pass.
Both sides have benefited from running back Marquise Grizzle, who has a team-high 46 rushes for 269 yards with three touchdowns and has five receptions including one touchdown. He was named the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association’s Offensive Back of the Week this week.
The passing game, led by quarterback Quinshon Odom, otherwise caters to Kowaski Kitchens, who has 17 receptions for 183 yards, and David Jordan, who has 11 for 147. Odom himself has completed 43 of 70 passes, a 61.4 completion percentage, for 234 yards.
Beyond Grizzle, the Bears have gotten 118 yards from Marquise Stephens.
Shinnick said he expects to see both side of the offense from the get-go.
“They’re pretty balanced. They do well both, believe me,” he said.
Defensively, the Bears have only allowed 226.5 yards per game and have caused trouble to passing games by nabbing five interceptions, including three total from Darnell Evans, who overtook the school’s interception record last week and was named the CIAA Defensive Back of the Week.
Shinnick cites a total package — an experienced quarterback, a dynamic running back and a shut-down defense — that the Braves can’t underestimate.
“They’re a complete football team playing on a very high level,” he said. “We’re going to have to play our best game. These guys are good and we know it.”