Sept. 1, 2010
By ALEX PODLOGAR -
FAYETTEVILLE, NC - For a rivalry to blossom, it helps to have the benefit of history on its side. But for a rivalry to start at all, it must have something memorable happen to force both those close to it and outside the sphere of influence to stand up and take notice.
With that in mind, the annual Two Rivers Classic is off to a prodigious start.
It was barely a year ago when the football programs from Fayetteville State and UNC Pembroke kicked off the new event that is the Two Rivers Classic. And after a 41-34 double-overtime thriller that Pembroke pulled off with a touchdown and a fourth-down stop at Luther "Nick" Jeralds Stadium, there is no denying the hype and the interest following the defending CIAA Champion Broncos and the Braves as they renew the burgeoning rivalry with the Classic's second edition at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 4, at Pembroke.
Both teams come into the contest off of successful 2009 campaigns, which both resulted in NCAA Division II playoff appearances. And both teams expect to boast some of the same high-octane offensive firepower that fans have come to expect.
"We have a chance to be a pretty good offensive football team," says Fayetteville State Head Coach Kenny Phillips, the 2009 CIAA Coach of the Year. "Nobody knows how this thing is going to go on Saturday, but if practice is any indication of what Saturday is going to be like, it's going to be exciting offensively."
The Broncos have their share of weapons on that side of the line of scrimmage. Richard Medlin (Sr., Raleigh NC) returns as the leading rusher after running for 667 yards and a team-high 10 touchdowns a year ago. Medlin, who was the 2008 CIAA Special Teams Player of the Year, will be the featured back after sharing carries last season.
"We're going to ride Richard until Richard can't run anymore," Phillips says. "Richard is the guy who's going to be carrying the football. Of course, we've got some other things we can do, but he's going to be main guy running the football, and I think we're going to see some exciting things."
Transfer quarterback Robert Benjamin (Jr., Phoenix, AZ) is a dual threat under center and gives the Broncos and accurate arm as well as elusive athletic ability.
"I think Robert has the total package," says Phillips, who enters his 11th season coaching the Broncos. "He throws the ball very well, including the deep ball. And on top of that, he has the athletic ability that when things break down around him, he can make a defense very, very frustrated. When you have a quarterback that, when things break down and you go to tackle him and he's not there anymore, that's frustrating for you as a football team."
Guard Larry McDonald (Jr., Mebane, NC) likes what he sees from the Broncos' new quarterback.
"He's calm and collected in the pocket," McDonald says. "He doesn't holler; he's just a chill person. He brings all the leadership, calm and collected, to the whole offense. You're not as flustered. He's a great quarterback to have. He not only makes the offensive line look good, he makes the whole team look good."
But while the Broncos appear ready to hit the ground running offensively, the Braves bring excellent athleticism as well as valued experience. Quarterback Cory Smith, a Preseason Third Team All-American selection by D2Proday.com, is 19-4 in his career as a starter and last year completed 169 of 261 passes for 1,787 yards with 17 touchdowns and just five interceptions. Starting running back Travis Daniels, who rushed for 213 yards and two scores against Fayetteville State last year, finished the season with 1,042 yards and 11 TDs while Rashon Kennedy added 767 yards rushing and six TDs. Daniels and Kennedy combined to run for 314 yards against a strong Broncos defense in last season's meeting.
"They do a very good job of letting (Smith) manage the football game, and when you have the two quality running backs like they have back there, you can do a lot of things," says Phillips. "The running game can open up the passing game, and they do a real good job of having one set up the other. My impression is that (Coach Pete Shinnick) has done a very good job of getting that program off the ground, and now he's got it in the position where it is one of the top Division II football teams in the country."
So, perhaps, are the Broncos, who have on their roster one of the premier placekickers in the country in Austin Turner (Jr., San Diego, CA). Turner was the 2009 CIAA Special Teams Player of the Year after kicking 17 fields goals, including a 49-yarder to go with seven touchbacks.
"The biggest confidence right now is in our special teams because we know we have a guy who can kick the football," says Phillips. "Anytime you have a guy who can kick it like Austin can kick the football, it gives you great joy to watch. You know once you get across the 50-yard line, if you can get to the 30, you have a chance to get three points."
Those three points may very well come in handy as the two teams figure to experience the kind of rough spots usually found in a season-opening game.
"The biggest thing in these early football games is to try to learn what kind of football team you have, because it's going to be a game that could be up and down," Phillips says. "It could be a game that's close to the end where somebody might kick a field goal to win it."
Players and coaches alike are expecting another edition to savor in the rivalry that is becoming the Two Rivers Classic.
"The game is going to hard-fought game. It's going to be a great game, and I'm looking forward to it," says McDonald.