PEMBROKE – One of the mantras often heard in the University of North Carolina soccer program at Pembroke is that a few swing games in each game will determine the outcome.
Four of them came out of Saturday’s defensive second round against Wheeling – two in quick succession in an important sequence of the second quarter and two more in a second half of the events that kept the UNCP lead – and resulted in a 34:28 win for the Braves at Grace P. Johnson Stadium.
“It has definitely given us life, which will go on,” said UNCP running back Joseph Early. “It’s something our team needs because I know we sometimes try to lower our heads when our backs are against the wall, but it’s like the coach always tells us to fight back when (resistances) come. Those were some great plays. “
The second quarter sequence began with UNCP (3-3, 3-2 Mountain East Conference) leading 10-3 when Devin Jones of the Braves Wheelings intercepted Brennon Norris at 8:32 in the second quarter. An apparent 71-yard return for a touchdown from Jones was negated by a penalty; instead, the Braves drove 52 yards in seven games and took a 17-3 lead with 5:35 in the half on a 2-yard touchdown run by Joseph Early.
“It was a big emotional boost and whether or not it was withdrawn we hit,” said Jones. “It was a big boost for the team and I think we really needed it. The Offense did a great job and used the sales. “
In the first game of the following Wheeling (3-3, 3-2 MEC) drive, Norris was again intercepted by Dante Bowlding at the 50-yard line, the first of his two picks.
“Worthington (defensive coach Chi-Emeke) told us we need to capitalize on their mistakes and I feel like we did that as a unit,” said Bowlding. “That was a big change in momentum. That was very crucial; I have the feeling that it helped us a lot. “
Early scored another goal two games later in a 35-yard touchdown run and extended the Braves’ lead to 24-3 with 4:43 by halftime.
“I really wanted to break one and really show my speed and show that I can be of use and make great games on the field,” said Early. “So that was great for me and also for the team.”
While the Braves Run game was still not as strong as it was wanted, totaling 93 yards that day, the two scoring games provide a point to build on for UNCP’s hasty attack.
“I thought Joe could get some things working, and up front we’re playing new combinations and trying to get the right people in the right places and I think the guys up front did a good job just opening up little something, ”said UNCP trainer Shane Richardson. “We still have to find ways to increase that and be better.”
From that 24-3 result, Wheeling closed at 24-18 late in the third before the second momentum shifting sequence kept the Braves on the right side of the result.
The Cardinals took over after a safety, drove to the Braves’ 8-yard line before UNCP got the stop in the red zone – maintaining the lead – and forced a field goal attempt, which Matt Greenwood converted to a 24 from 25 yards -21 game, 56 seconds behind in the quarter.
Wheeling then attempted an onside kick, which UNCP’s Jaden Richeson regained at the Cardinals ’47.
“I thought by the time Jaden got the onside kick back right there, we were already over the 50 yard line; that was a great moral booster, a great feeling to be able to start there on the offensive, ”said Richardson.
UNCP converted the good field position into points with a 19-yard field goal from Gerardo Guerra Rivera and extended his lead to 27:21 with 13:48 minutes.
UNCP’s Luke Brooks intercepted Norris on the next run, resulting in a 4-yard touchdown pass from Josh Jones to Faheem Diaab with 6:45 minutes remaining, giving the Braves some air with a 34-21 lead Breathing gave.
“It was good to end the ride,” said Josh Jones. “Faheem read a great route. Coach Cox named a great game and set us up for success right away, and we just went out and did it. ”
Bowlding secured his second interception with 6:27 remaining, but this time UNCP didn’t convert the pick into points and punted. Wheeling scored after a 21-yard pass from Norris to Jaquan Davidson with 2:34 to go to 34-28, but Rodney Smith won the onside kick attempt back; UNCP had to knock it back to Wheeling, who drove all the way to the Braves’ 27-yard line before Ben Jaramillo sacked Norris on the game’s final play to seal the win.
“Ben, he’s a great leader,” said Richardson. “He’s got stuck this season trying to figure out what we could do better every week and trying to lead the guys and I couldn’t be more excited that he can do this game.”
The Braves’ four interceptions are the most since picking up four Virginia Wise passports on November 16, 2019.
Josh Jones was 21-for-25 pass for 191 yards; Tyshawn Carter caught six passes for 68 yards and Rodney Smith caught six passes for 51 yards. Early a total of 72 yards at 18 carries.
Norris threw despite the four interceptions for 338 yards and three touchdowns for the Cardinals.
Wheeling fumbled on the first move after scrimmage, which resulted in a field goal for the opening drive for UNCP when Rivera converted from 26 yards for a 3-0 lead one minute after the start of the game.
Josh Jones intercepted on UNCP’s next drive, but possession later resulted in a 15-play, 80-yard drive that culminated in a 2-yard touchdown run by Jones to give the Braves a 10-0 – Lead with 14:18 left to give the first half.
Wheeling’s Matt Greenwood kicked a 30-yard field goal 10:24 before half to get the Cardinals on the board. The Cardinals’ next possession began with the UNCP’s two-intercept, two-rushing touchdown sequence; Wheeling used the rest of the clock on his next drive, scoring a 2-yard pass from Norris to Ryan LaFollette at the end of the half. The extra point was blocked and UNCP led 24-9 to break.
Rivera missed a 24-yard field goal attempt on UNCP’s first drive in the second half; Wheeling then drove 80 yards and scored a hit in a fourth down game on a 15-yard pass from Norris to Davidson to draw within a 24-16 score with 7:56 in the third. Wheeling’s safety came two UNCP rides later, followed by the sequence that brought the momentum back to the Braves’ sidelines.
Saturday’s win came seven days after the Braves lost a one-sided 51-21 competition at Frostburg State as the team reacted to claim their first win since beating Glenville State on September 18. The Braves will travel to West Virginia next Saturday for kick-off at 1 p.m. before welcoming Charleston home on October 23.
“The last week has been a heavy loss; We were right with them for part of the game and we kind of walked away, ”said Josh Jones. “For us, hungry, humble and to get the win this week, it was a hard-won win … definitely something to build on when we go to the state of West Virginia.”