UNCP football wins first home game
in triumphant return after 56 years
By Dan Kelly
A crowd of 4,209 fans roared, tomahawk chopped and waved the entire duration of the Braves 26-20 home victory against Greensboro College Pride on Sept. 8.
It was an exciting, if imperfect, game with the Braves coming back from a 10-7 halftime deficit to win.
There were seven turnovers between the teams—five in the Braves’ favor—a blocked punt and missed extra points.
But for UNCP, a couple of thrilling plays in the second half seemingly made the difference in the game.
Freshman running back Rashan Kennedy sliced through the right side of the defense in the third quarter for a 30-yard touchdown that gave the Braves their first lead at 13-10.
Unfortunately, the following extra point was blocked.
Kennedy then outdid himself in fourth quarter with a 58-yard rush down the right sideline and—with the entire defense in his wake—tripped at the two-yard line.
Kennedy then quickly drove in for a touchdown on the next play. The score was decisive as UNCP took a 26-13 lead.
“We got used to that defense and made a few changes on blocking assignments,” Kennedy said. “We found the crease and just hit it.”
While the offense did conjure some incredible plays, the Braves defense held tight when the Pride put together some good drives and dominated at other portions of the game.
In total, the Braves defense held Greensboro to 234 total yards, had three sacks and collected five interceptions.
The last of those interceptions by cornerback Troy Russell, no. 7, stopped the Pride on a drive that could have won them the game as they were down just six points.
“It wasn’t that hard to break on it (the pass) because from reading the quarterback to receiver I saw the receiver come right for a hitch, so I sat on it,” Russell said.
Following the turnover, the Braves offense clinched the game on a fourth and one conversion with a 10-yard Kennedy run.
All that was left was for quarterback Matt Evans, no. 12, to take two knee-downs for the first UNCP football victory in 56 years.
“It started out a little scary but I knew at halftime we’d come back, make our adjustments and come out on top,” Evans said. “It was hard because the defense ran something different every play.”
Head Coach Pete Shinnick seemed very pleased to win but believes that his team needs numerous areas of improvement.
“I think we can play better football than that. I give Greensboro College a lot of credit for disrupting some of the things we did offensively,” Shinnick said.
One of those areas in need of improved play is certainly the special teams. The two missed extra points and blocked punt returned for a touchdown could have very easily left UNCP winless after two games.
“Very rarely do you play as poorly as we did on special teams and come away with more points,” Shinnick said.
One of the bright spots on special teams was the punting and kickoffs of kicker Zach Gornto. He had a booming, 59-yard punt in the third quarter and a few kickoffs that pinned the Pride to their 20-yard line.
“He saved us field position wise,” Shinnick said.
During all of the action on field, the crowd at Lumbee Guaranty Bank field was absolutely ecstatic. Every touchdown was met with jubilation and every penalty against the Braves was met with jeering.
A lone Greensboro fan was relentlessly “booed” and heckled after the Pride’s blocked punt returned for a touchdown.
The “wave” was even successfully completed a few times, which is likely a first at the Belk Complex.
The Braves will certainly need all of that enthusiasm and support, as they will face the Wingate Bulldogs on Sept. 15. The Bulldogs are a team that Shinnick says is in the top echelon of Division II schools.