The UNCP football team finally returned to action on Sept. 29 at Grace P. Johnson Stadium to take on the Wolves of Newberry College following an unprecedented reprieve from their athletic and scholastic seasons due to the destruction and aftermath that hurricane Florence wrought on the Carolinas.
After being forced to evacuate campus and forfeit their last two games prior to this contest due to safety concerns, the last game that Braves played was against ECSU on Sept. 8.
They hadn’t played an opponent in nearly a month and had only returned to practice as well as campus just six days prior to this match up.
It seemed evident that such a hiatus had halted any of the carry over momentum and confidence from their blowout victory over Vikings earlier in the month.
It was the Braves offense that seemed the most impacted by their time apart from one another as they seemed out of sync for most of night and failed to score a single point in the team’s first shutout since the inaugural 2007 season.
“I thought the way we came out early in the game was very good and it was really sharp. It was a great contest back and forth and we were really holding our own there. Obviously, we couldn’t get a ton going on offense and then obviously we had a lot of executional breakdowns and it’s tough to be able win a game when you don’t score any points,” Head Coach Shane Richardson said.
After putting up 44 of the team’s 51 points in 2018 in their last contest, the Braves weren’t able to play a complete game against a red-hot Newberry team that came into this game riding a two-game winning streak.
While their defense and special teams kept the score relatively close and was within just two scores going into the fourth quarter, the ineptitude of the offense was the undoing of the Black and Gold in the end.
Even though true freshman quarterback Josh Jones received the starting nod from the coaching staff at the onset of this game, the Braves once again utilized a two-quarterback system putting in redshirt freshman quarterback Joshua Dale at times in this contest in hopes of better production, but both passers consistently struggled to find and hit their open receivers.
“We were fully ready to stay with him (Jones) and we didn’t have much going so obviously we needed to try to do something to generate some sort of momentum there offensively. They’re two kids that don’t have any experience to pull from other than from this year…They both do good things, they’re both different and we got to try to find a way to put points on the board with one or the other or both,” said Richardson.
Jones finished with 18-31 for 147 yards passing, no touchdowns and an ill-advised interception while throwing off his back foot with pressure in his face. In his limited game action Dale completed just two passes for five-yards and added another 19 on the ground rushing.
“I see them stepping into a big role. They’re both young and they know what is expected from them and we just have to stay on them and they’re doing a great job already. We just got to keep them poised and just encourage them from here on out,” said Sheridan.
As stout as the defense played in the first half of play, they began to whither in the second half as the game went on and the offense continued their stagnate struggle, putting them back on the field without much rest.
“We played great in the first and in the second half I think we got too lackadaisical and then we didn’t stay focused up so as we got to continue on in the game we have got finish off strong and it will be a better outcome,” said Manns.
The “bend but don’t break” defense that gave up just three points in the opening act began to get gashed over the final 30 minutes and ended up giving up 200 net yards on the ground after allowing just about 80 yards in their previous two contest.
“They (the defense) hada really tough quarterback situation where (the quarterback was) very mobile and I think we had a tough time with him a couple time…You got to be able to score more points than them and you got to be able to hold them to less points,” Richardson said.
Runningback Josh Sheridan was brightest and perhaps the lone standout on the offensive side of the ball as he led the Braves in both rushing (8-38 yards) and receiving (4-42). He continues to be the spark that ignites this offense and was the big play threat in this game as he picked up multiple chunk plays that went for big gains and picked up first downs.
“(Sheridan) Created a lot of things on his own. I thought he really had a couple good runs that were very…just competitive and I’m just pleased with just kind of how he looked tonight,”said Richardson.
The Braves had an opportunity to prevent the shutout on their longest and deepest driveinto Newberry’s side of the field when sophomore placekicker Alex Alvarado missed his only field goal attempt wide right from 32 yards out.