Nine buses and more than 2,000 UNCP fans watched as the Braves launched a new era in football.
The Braves went toe-to-toe with Davidson all afternoon.
With only a handful of players who had ever set foot on a college football field, UNCP spotted Davidson College a 15-point halftime lead and made a valiant comeback. When the dust settled from the first UNCP football game in 56 years, the Braves came up short 31-21.
Braves’ freshman Rashan Kennedy racked up 162 total yards in a strong offensive showing, but host Davidson made a 15-point halftime lead stand up with tenacious fourth quarter ball control at Richardson Stadium. Kennedy rushed 15 times for 119 yards while hauling in five catches for 43 yards.
Quarterback Matt Evans completed 21-of-44 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns, with receiver Darrin Watkins catching three passes for 75 yards and a first quarter touchdown that was a first for the new-era Braves.
Braves prepare to enter the field of play.
Davidson running back Chad Barnes ran 29 times for 170 yards for the Division I Wildcats, and quarterback Ryan Alexander completed 12-of-17 pass attempts for 124 yards before exiting the game with an injury.
The teams would combine for 851 offensive yards in the slugfest. UNCP head coach Pete Shinnick was pleased with the effort.
“I thought our guys fought and scratched very well and we really gave ourselves a chance in the second half,” said Shinnick. “We did some things that I think we can fix and correct.
“Give a lot of credit to Davidson, they came out and played hard, which is the way we expected them to play,” he said. “They got after us a bit with their offensive line and then got after us a little bit in the secondary.
Quarterback Matt Evans avoids Davidson’s defense for a gain.
“We got a group here that, if they are willing to work as hard as they have this next week, will have a chance in our next one,” he added.
Davidson worked quickly using a nine-play, 91-yard drive to put the first points on the board on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Alexander to Myles Potter.
The black and gold answered on its next possession, clawing the Wildcats for 12 yards on its first three plays before Evans found a streaking Watkins down the far sideline on a 64-yard scoring strike. A blocked point after attempt by Jared Leblanc kept the lead in Davidson’s favor.
Braves get fired up before the opening kick-off.
The Wildcats scored the game’s next 17 points to push their lead out to 24-6, but UNCP gave itself some momentum right before the halftime whistle with a 14-play, 61-yard drive that culminated with a 26-yard field goal by Zach Gornto as time expired.
Having found their niche at the intermission, the Braves came out firing on all cylinders and put Davidson on its heels with a three-yard touchdown by Josh Throckmorton, but the Wildcats added an insurance score five minutes into the final quarter when backup quarterback Matt McGreevy hit Kirk Benedict on a scoring strike with 10:32 left to play.
Darrin Watkins, 18, and Matt Evans celebrate the first touchdown of the new-era Braves.
Evans and UNCP cut the lead back to 10 points on a touchdown pass to Wayne Blevins with 1:40 left to play, but the ensuing onside kick was gobbled up by the Wildcats front line to ice the game.
Chancellor Allen C. Meadors, who spearheaded the return of football to Pembroke, enjoyed the game Saturday.
“Watching football come back to UNCP on Saturday was a dream come true for many,” Chancellor Meadors said. “I look forward with others to watching the Braves play on UNCP’s campus this weekend.”
UNCP will play its first home game on Saturday against Greensboro College on Lumbee Guaranty Bank Field. Kick-off is set for 1 p.m., Saturday, September 8.
More than 3,000 fans are expected to make their way through the turnstiles of Lumbee Guaranty Bank Field as UNCP Athletic Department officials announced Monday that the football home opener against Greensboro College is sold out.
More than 2,000 Braves’ fans made the trip to Davidson College.
A limited number of standing room only tickets will be available at the gate beginning at 11 a.m. on Saturday morning, and fans are encouraged to arrive early to secure a ticket. A total of 400 tickets have been set aside for students on a first-come, first-serve basis at the University Center ticket office beginning at 11 a.m. on Wednesday morning.
Tailgating areas will open at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday and will close at 1 p.m.