PEMBROKE – After trailing for almost all of the first three quarters on Saturday, Fairmont State has scored three straight touchdowns in what has become a home and away game at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
The first two times, the UNCP provided an answer to regain the lead.
The third time, time passed on the Braves in a 30-27 loss.
“We were in a battle, it was air combat,” said UNCP coach Shane Richardson. “We have to be able to try to correct some of those mistakes and swings early in the game so that we don’t have to go in and rely on a last minute situation. You don’t want to have your back to the wall like this if you don’t have to.
Fairmont State (1-3, 1-2 MEC) took their first lead at 17-14 with 3:11 left in the third when Connor Neal completed a 22-yard touchdown pass to Jeremiah Taylor. The Falcons took a 24-20 lead when Michael Floria joined Javon Hayes for 19 yards with 9:20 remaining, and regained the lead at 30-27 when Floria found Donovan Washington in the apartment. for a 3-yard touchdown pass with 1:13 to go; the last extra point was not good.
UNCP (2-2, 2-1 MEC) responded the first time with a 34-yard pass from Josh Jones to Tyshawn Carter to take a 20-17 lead; the extra point was not good. The Braves scored again with 4:36 left on a 1-yard run from Joseph Early to lead 27-24.
After the Falcons’ final touchdown, the Braves quickly completed four passes to get about 10 to 15 yards out of range; Jones was sacked at the Braves’ 46-yard line with 5 seconds left, and a failed pass attempt from Hail Mary when time ran out.
“With the little time we had, we were trying to work on the sidelines, and we had some downtime, so we looked in the middle,” Jones said. “We did pretty well the first half of that ride, and we got to about midfield and stalled. It just comes down to this execution; we practice this every week.
The Falcons tallied 316 attacking yards in the second half as they overcame a 14-3 halftime deficit.
“We gave up a lot of big games; it was a source of frustration for me, ”said Richardson. “There were too many games that were abandoned by the defense and hurt us. “
Much of the defensive struggle came in high school; the Falcons were limited to 81 rushing yards but managed 378.
“We just didn’t fight for the ball the way we practiced it, and we got a little nonchalant,” said defensive back Devin Jones.
UNCP built their lead with a strong defensive performance in the first half, forcing two key Falcons turnovers – one that blocked a Falcons scoring opportunity and the other that resulted in a touchdown from the Braves.
The Braves scored in the game’s first possession on a 14-yard pass from Jones to Rodney Smith for a 7-0 lead; on the road that followed, the Falcons drove inside the Braves’ 10-yard line before Devin Jones intercepted a third pass and a goal in the end zone for a touchback.
“We know they like to throw a little fade ball at their big receivers, so I just played it slow,” Devin Jones said. “They tried a back shoulder, and I was on it, I jumped it.”
Two Falcons later, the UNCP forced Fairmont State out of its own 23; a high snap from the Falcons resulted in a loose ball, recovered by the Braves’ Marcus Davis at the 2-yard line before diving through the goal line for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead 12:52 before the intermission.
UNCP punted their remaining first half practices after the initial touchdown; Fairmont State was ruled off the scoreboard by the Braves to a 33-yard field goal by Colin Harvath with 10 seconds left in the first half.
“Our defense and the way we finished the last practice of the first half, I felt the mentality was starting to get a little comfortable; we might be a little tired, ”said Richardson. “The mentality has to be able to come in after half and say, ‘Hey, we gave them a basket over there, but let’s get back to where we were,’ in terms of the first half at the start.”
Fairmont State prefaced all three touchdowns in the final 18 minutes by scoring one in their first second-half practice, a 77-yard pass from Neal to Joshawn Lewis.
Josh Jones completed 26 of 40 passes for UNCP for 310 yards and two touchdowns; he completed at least one pass to 11 different Braves receivers, led by Trey Dixon with six catches for 58 yards and Jai’Veon Smalls with five catches for 88 yards.
“Our roster is very well filled with talented players, and they’re really talented and my job is to give them the ball,” said Josh Jones. “It makes my job easier when I know these guys are going to fight for the ball and they know what they’re doing there.”
The Braves’ rushed game, meanwhile, struggled to reach zero net yards, as a lingering concern for the team in recent seasons returned after a strong performance on the floor in last week’s win over Glenville State.
“We have to make sure that we put in place a plan that is going to put our attack in good situations all the time and able to constantly try to find the balance that we need to be able to move the ball, to be able to put points on the board, ”said Richardson.
The Braves are back on the road next week when they travel to Frostburg State, which beat UNCP 40-28 on April 17.
“It’s a defeat in the conference; we certainly need to learn from this experience, but we can continue, ”said Richardson. “We still have a lot of football to play and it could be very successful for us.”