The Braves defense struggled to complete tackles and compete for contested catches in their 34-21 loss to the Lions of Mars Hill University. PN photo/Trevon Knight
The UNCP football team returned home for the first game of a two game homestand at Grace P. Johnson Stadium on Nov. 3 as their season prepares to come to a close.
They faced off with an equally struggling Mars Hill team that, like the Braves, had only two wins coming into this contest.
On a day, in which the Black and Gold’s offense accounted for several big plays nearly posted 400 yards of total offense, the running game churned out 103 on the ground and the defense snagged two interceptions. It wasn’t enough to overcome the mistakes and missed opportunities that transpired over the course of the game.
After the defense forced a quick three and out to open the game, running back McKinley Nelson took his first handoff up the middle then cut up the sideline before being taken down a yard shy of the goal line.
The Braves would fail to punch the ball in from a yard out, which would mark the first of the team’s several struggles in short yardage situations as well as in redzone. The offense would also come up short on fourth-and-1 on their next drive from the Lions’ 28-yard line when fullback Dylan Hodges was stuffed on a dive play.
“You got to be able to put the ball in the endzone in that first series. To only have come away with three points there is disappointing and you want to be able to put the ball in the endzone,” said Head Coach Shane Richardson.
Punter Isaac Parks had his first attempt of the afternoon blocked and recovered for a touchdown in the endzone by Mars Hill to put them up 14-3 in the first 15 minutes of play.
The second quarter was an up and down affair for the Braves as they started it off deep in enemy territory but only managed to come out with another Alex Alvarado field goal. They would tie the game up at 14-14 after quarterback Josh Jones hit receiver Shammond Hicks over the middle and Hicks turned on the burners and outraced the defense for a 79-yard touchdown.
After a successful two-point conversion attempt that saw Jones find receiver Aaron Whitaker, who made a nice diving snag in the back of the endzone.
The Lions would pick off a pair of ill-advised and poorly thrown passes from quarterback Joshua Dale and take a seven-point lead after a Mars Hill receiver corralled a deflected pass and managed to keep both feet in bounds for a 3-yard score.
The third quarter was one to forget for the Braves as they were completely sputtering on offense, only managing to record three total net yards in the first 15 minutes coming out of the half even though they had three drives start inside of the Lions’ 50-yard line.
“The defense did a good job getting us the ball, getting a couple turnovers and it just came down to execution and we didn’t get that done at that time,” said Jones.
In their first drive of the game’s final stanza, the Black and Gold brought the score to 27-21 when the offense dialed up a perfect screenplay to running back Quadrin Williams who was able to get to the corner and sprint to the endzone nearly unscathed.
The Braves would not get the ball back until there was less than a minute left on the clock after the Lions put the game out of reach with a 70-yard drive, which consumed nearly five and a half minutes that was capped off by one-yard quarterback sneak bringing the final score to 34-21.