PEMBROKE — Defensive lineman Trae Jackson of Winston-Salem State was half joking when he was asked about quarterback Josh Jones of UNC Pembroke.
Soon after Jones helped lead the Braves to a come-from-behind 27-21 win over the Rams, Jackson was asked if Jones had Vaseline on his uniform because he kept slipping through the hands of would-be tacklers.
“I’m pretty sure he did, I’m not going to lie,” Jackson said with a smile.
Jones was nearly sacked at least six times, but he slipped out of the Rams’ grasp enough that it became the norm after a while. The Rams managed just two sacks, but should have had a lot more.
“We had poor tackling and it just caught up with us,” said Jackson, who was one of four new starters on the defensive line on Saturday night in the Rams opener. “We have to move on to next week. And as a defensive line, we have to do better, and it’s about doing the little things.”
Fellow lineman Karron Jeter said execution has to get better.
“Our tackling was off, and we need to do a better job of locking up when we get close to the quarterback,” Jeter said. “We have to take care of the little things in our technique.”
Robert Massey, the interim head coach of the Rams, was worried about how his defense would perform in the first game. The Rams gave up 325 yards, but it was the missed tackles that stood out.
Massey, however, gave credit to Jones, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound sophomore who gained 71 yards rushing. He picked up three first downs as the Braves trailed 21-10 in the third quarter and scored 17 straight points to win.
“We had a lot of missed tackles, and their quarterback did a good job of eluding us,” Massey said. “He made some good decisions, but we did a poor job on tackling. That’s not an excuse, but offensively we played well enough to win.”
Even though much was made of the Rams’ more disciplined approach in the preseason, they still had 14 penalties for 93 yards. By comparison, the Braves had six penalties for 60 yards.
But there were plenty of positives with the offense.
Quarterback Dominique Graves, now 4-2 as a starter, threw three touchdown passes and two interceptions. He also did very well scrambling at various times when plays broke down.
“As an offense we need to show balance, and to know we can throw the ball and run the ball is huge,” Graves said.
The Rams were ahead 21-10 with 10 minutes to go in the third quarter but never scored again.
Graves said that the Rams didn’t get too conservative after having the big lead. It was a lack of execution when it mattered most.
“I wouldn’t say we got too conservative,” Graves said. “I think they changed some things, and we didn’t adjust maybe like we should have. We didn’t execute as well as we should have.”
One of the best plays of the night came when Chandler Belk, a senior wide receiver who played sparingly last season, got behind the Braves’ defense and Graves hit him with a perfect pass for a 78-yard touchdown. It was Belk’s first touchdown reception of his career at WSSU.
“We did a good job of moving the ball even when we were backed up,” said Belk, a former star at Reagan High School who had two catches for 93 yards.
The Rams will try to regroup this week before taking on Catawba at Bowman Gray Stadium at 6 p.m. on Saturday. The Indians lost to West Georgia 37-9 at home on Saturday.
Massey was in an upbeat mood after the game despite the loss. He said there were positives despite the Rams losing their opener for the first time since 2016.
“We will keep working, and I saw some good things so we’ll be OK,” Massey said. “We have to get ready for Catawba, that’s where we go from here.”