After battling back to take the lead in the last 12 minutes of their home opener against Winston Salem State, only to see it slip through their hands on an uncanny play in the last 75 seconds of the game. Following a semi short week of practice and reflection, the Braves blew out the Vikings of Elizabeth City State University 51-6 on Sept. 8 at Grace P. Johnson Stadium.
The Braves completely dominated the Vikings in all three phases of the game, and outside of allowing a late game kick-off return after the returner had problems fielding it before finding a lane up the left side line for ECSU’s only points of the day.
“I like where we’re at. I thought we responded well after last week’s tough loss and obviously it feels good to be on the winning end,” Head Coach Shane Richardson said.
Thanks to stellar special teams play and a ferocious defensive performance, the Braves offense consistently found themselves working with short fields and would capitalize on all but one of their five opportunities when they had excellent field position on their opponents’ side of the field producing three touchdowns and field goal.
Freshman quarterback Josh Jones was awarded his first collegiate start after giving the Braves new life and almost completing the fourth quarter comeback in the opener. While he did split time with redshirt freshman Joshua Dale, he legitimized the coaching staff’s decision to give him the start as he led the team to three quick scores to build an early 17-0 lead in the first 16 minutes of play.
The second quarter showed why the quarterback competition is so fierce with both passers leading touchdown drives of over 40 yards. Dale was inserted into the game on the second drive of the second quarter and quickly got off to a hot start completing his first four passes to march the Braves down the field before delivering a perfectly placed back shoulder fade to redshirt freshman Tyshawn Carter on his fifth passing attempt to bring their lead to 24-0.
Jones was brought back in on the offense’s next drive of the quarter and he only needed one play to put the Braves up 31-0 going into halftime. After establishing a prominent rushing attack in the first half the Black and Gold called for the play action at the perfect time as the defense bit down hard on the fake, sold out on the run and Jones was able to find redshirt junior receiver Quay Threatt running wide open down the right sideline for the score.
In the second half the Braves running game took over as the team looked to salt the game away. The ground and pound was in full effect in the third quarter as they surpassed the entirety of their first half total converting just nine carries for 70 yards and a score. Redshirt junior Josh Sheridan who led the team in rushing with 10 carries for 82 yards had his best run of the night on the first drive of the second half.
“I think Josh Sheridan is a heck of a running back and I thought he actually did a lot of things to create those big runs out there…I thought Josh had a heck of a night,” Richardson said.
Just when the ECSU offense began to find a semblance of rhythm on offense assisted by some Braves penalties, redshirt junior defensive back Shawn Everett delivered the defense’s best and UNCP’s longest play of the day.
Everett read the quarterback’s eyes the entire way and jumped the intended receivers out breaking route and raced to the endzone for the 63-yard pick six to run the score up 45-0. It was the kind of play that corners dream about and that quarterbacks dread, when they can undercut and out route and have nothing but green grass and maybe a trailing quarterback in front of them.
“I really liked that our team didn’t stop playing in the second half and I thought challenge was at halftime that we wanted to really continue to keep the gas pedal on because that is a reflection of really who we’re going to be,” Richardson said.
Both the offensive and defensive lines dominated the line of scrimmage for the Braves in this game and constantly winning the point of attack in the trenches. The defensive line was unrelenting in their pursuit of the Vikings’ quarterbacks as they racked up a combined six sacks and applied constant pressure off the edge was well as collapsing the pocket.
Redshirt senior Tyler Hinton led the team in sacks on the night and added to his program all time lead with two and senior Tajai Liles added and was a mainstay in the backfield.
“We really just wanted to bounce back,” said Hinton. “It was a tough loss last week, but we wanted to just let that go, shake that and get ready for this week and I think we did that.”
Richardson believed his team matched up well upfront on defense in particular. The team rarely sent a blitzer on the night, opting instead to rush just their four down linemen. Redshirt sophomore linebacker Jordan Howard picked one of the Braves six sacks on a blitz.
“We were able to let the front four really do their jobs and everybody else could just settle into playing their fits and their coverages and I think that’s the difference,” said Richardson. “When those four guys up front can perform really well against the run and the pass then the defense can play very well.”