Charlotte brings newest challenge to UNCP’s season
by Scott Schlaufman
PEMBROKE — As the weeks go bye, the spotlight hardly seems to miss the No. 13 The University of North Carolina at Pembroke football team.
There was the nationally televised win against a Top-5 team, the Two Rivers Classic in Fayetteville and the inaugural Cape Fear Classic in Wilmington.
But this week takes it to a different level.
The Braves will spend Saturday in Charlotte for a matchup with the University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s first-year team, an NCAA Division I FCS squad that is slated to jump to the FBS level in 2015.
“That would be a great accomplishment for this senior class to knock these guys off,” UNCP coach Pete Shinnick said. “It’s another game and it’s another opportunity for us.”
It’s an opportunity that puts the Braves (4-0) in front of another large audience. The newly built Jerry Richardson Stadium seats allows Charlotte (4-2) to host more than 15,000 people and the game will be televised regionally in the Charlotte area.
But with the big audience and big school comes a bigger challenge. The 49ers will, at the very least, be a bit bigger and a bit more athletic than what is normally seen at the Division II level.
“There will be some size differences, there will be some speed differences,” Shinnick said.
What the Braves hope will overcome it is pure experience and the benefit of an extra week to prepare.
“I’m not sure size is going to play as much of a factor as much as if we are we doing what we need to be doing,” Shinnick said.
The goal is to hold off a balanced attack that has put up nearly equal numbers both rushing and passing.
Based around former Newton quarterback Matt Johnson, the 49ers have averaged 263.7 passing yards per game and 202.7 from a rushing attack that uses four backs, each of which average at least 20 yards per game.
The 49ers have scored at least 45 points in each of their four wins, but scored 20 combined points in losses to Chowan and North Carolina Central. The 49ers have also dealt with adversity, overcoming a 21-point deficit last week to beat Gardner-Webb, who had been ranked No. 24 in the FCS poll.
It will be a threat that will test the Pembroke defense, which tied a school record with eight sacks and limited Wingate to 127 yards in the team’s most recent game on Sept. 28.
“We know we have our hands full,” Shinnick said. “Our defense knows that they’re going to have to be accountable for all the things they do.”
The game also comes with a bit more preparation.
With the bye week came time for UNCP to heal some nagging injuries, but also time to add some speed to the practice and get the Braves used to a higher tempo and iron out some of the smaller aspects of the gameplan.”
“Last week was a chance to work on those things,” Shinnick said.
It will ultimately be a chance for UNCP to face the latest challenge in a grueling schedule.
“This is going to be a good test for us. This is going to be as good a football team as we’ve seen.”
Scott Schlaufman works for Civitas Media as sports editor of The Robesonian.
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