Sept. 3, 2011
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. - Special teams giveth, and the special teams taketh away.
UNC Pembroke managed to overcome a pair of special teams miscues that led to two touchdowns for the Fayetteville State Broncos, but the Broncos' misadventures in their kicking game contributed to their own troubles as the Braves won the Two Rivers Classic for the third time in as many years, 33-27, at Luther "Nick" Jeralds Stadium on Saturday night.
After misfiring on two point-after tries and missing a 32-yard field goal attempt through three quarters, the Broncos failed to put enough pressure on the Braves, who used a 15-yard touchdown run by Travis Daniels and a 27-yard field goal by Taylor Baskett over the game's final 8:41 to rally from an early fourth-quarter deficit.
"We absolutely gave them 14 points," said Pembroke coach Pete Shinnick. "Just gave them two touchdowns."
It didn't matter.
With its running game again firing on all cylinders - Pembroke rushed for 266 yards, the third time in the 3-year-old series the Braves have topped 250 yards rushing - UNCP calmly recovered from a 27-23 deficit early in the fourth quarter with a nine-play, 80-yard drive that covered just 2 minutes, 36 seconds, for the go-ahead score, 30-27.
After Pembroke forced the Broncos to punt on the next series with under 6 minutes to go, Travis Daniels, who led all players with 129 yards rushing on 20 carries, broke through the Fayetteville State defense for a 24-yard run to get the Braves to midfield.
Quarterback Luke Charles then made a nifty side-step move for another gainer, and soon the Braves were in field goal position with under 2 minutes to go.
Then the Braves got another special teams break.
Baskett's 27-yard attempt appeared to be tipped by a Broncos' player, sending the ball into an awkward dive. Still, it had just enough steam to hit the crossbar and bounce over, giving the Braves a 33-27 lead.
Fayetteville State managed to move the ball to midfield with a minute remaining, but turned the ball over on downs after two passes were dropped.
That Fayetteville State kicker Austin Turner (Sr., San Diego, Calif.), the 2009 CIAA Special Teams Player of the Year and a 2011 Preseason All-CIAA selection, struggled so mightily caught Broncos coach Kenny Phillips off guard. Turner missed just two PATs in all of 2010 on his way to earning All-CIAA honors.
"It was just an off-night for Austin," Phillips said. "It's just one of those things.
"But that's not what lost us the game. We just didn't make enough plays defensively. Pembroke isn't fancy, but we had trouble doing the things to stop their attack."
Despite the troubles in the kicking game, it looked like Fayetteville State's special teams defense might have done enough to win the game.
Preseason All-American Andre Lyles recovered Donald Britt's fumbled punt return in the end zone for a touchdown with 2:03 left in the first half, helping Fayetteville State to a 20-20 tie at the break.
And then, with 14:45 to go in the game, the snap sailed high over UNC Pembroke punter Bill Stanley's head. Brandon Carr raced to the end zone to pounce n the ball, giving the Broncos a 27-23 lead.
But that's all the Braves would allow. After scoring on pass plays of 66 and 64 yards in the game's first 20 minutes, the Broncos went into the half with 239 total yards. But the Braves' defense held FSU to just 93 yards in the second half.
Meanwhile, the Braves just kept rolling. Pembroke held the ball for over 33 minutes, had scoring drives of 78, 80, 54, 79, 80 and 63 yards, running 89 plays to amass 536 yards -the second time the Braves have totaled more than 530 yards against the Broncos in the series.
Elliott Powell added 96 yards rushing on 14 carries while Damonte Perry picked up 55 yards on 10 rushes. Charles, in his first start at quarterback, was 19 of 35 for 270 yards and two touchdowns.
Colon Bailey led the Broncos with 71 yards rushing on 17 carries. Quarterback Brandon Blumears-Cluff (Jr., Phoenix, Az.) added 54 yards on 10 carries. Blumears-Cluff, beset by drops, was 12 of 36 for 203 yards and two touchdowns, after starting the game 5 of 7 through the air.
The first half rivaled anything seen in the inaugural Two Rivers Classic, which featured a double-overtime thriller in its first season in 2009. The fireworks started early for both teams as they opened their respective seasons Saturday.
Fayetteville State took the first lead of the game when Bluemears-Cluff eluded the rush and rambled to his left, but keeping his eyes downfield. He found Jamere Pugh (Jr., Henderson, NC) all alone down the left side and connected for a 66-yard score with 2:41 to go in the first quarter.
Turner missed the point-after try, and Fayetteville State led 6-0.
Pembroke quickly responded, using its running game to methodically move down the field before Te'Vell Williams twisted in the air to haul in a Luke Charles pass from 16-yards out for the touchdown. The play capped a 14-play, 78-yard drive, and Pembroke led 7-6.
The game quickly went back-and-forth from there. Fayetteville State got another huge pass play as Blumears-Cluff found a streaking Antonio Allen (So., Raleigh, NC) for a 64-yard touchdown. Again, though, Turner misfired, leaving the Broncos with a 12-6 lead at the 10:15 mark.
The Braves came right back with another long drive fueled by the ground game. Terry's 4-yard scoring rush capped a 13-play, 80-yard drive, and after the PAT was missed. Pembroke clung to a 13-12 lead with 5:16 to go in the first half.
FSU re-took the lead when Lyles (Sr., Ahoskie, N.C.) recovered Britt's fumble in the end zone with 2:03 remaining, and after Blumears-Cluff hit Xavier Molina-Williams (Jr., West Covina, Calif.) for the 2-point conversion, the Broncos led 20-13.
Again Pembroke came right back, getting a score with 55 seconds to go with another acrobatic catch, this one by Dom Whittington, for a 12-yard score, leading to the 20-20 score at the break.
Pembroke took an early lead in the second half following Basket's 25-yard field goal with 9:19 to go in the third quarter.
Fayetteville State travels to play Carson-Newman at 7 p.m. on Thursday.
"We've got work to do," said Lyles. "This is our wake-up call."
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