PEMBROKE – Winston-Salem State’s defense spent way too much time on the field in the fourth quarter on Saturday night.
The result was a come-from-behind 27-21 win for UNC Pembroke at Grace P. Johnson Stadium.
The Braves trailed 21-10 early in the third quarter after Chandler Belk caught a 78-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Dominique Graves. It was Belk’s first career touchdown for the Rams and Graves’ third touchdown pass of the game.
It wasn’t enough, however, as the Braves (1-0) chipped away and finally took the lead with 4:32 left in the game.
“I think the think that hurt us the most were a lot of missed tackles,” interim head coach Robert Massey of the Rams said. “We needed to wrap up a lot better and that’s one of the things you worry about in a first game like this.”
The Braves had cut the lead to 21-19 early in the fourth quarter and then got the ball back for what was the game-winning drive. The chewed up nearly six minutes before quarterback Josh Jones hit wide receiver Shammond Hicks for a 14-yard touchdown with 4:32 left. The two-point conversion was good to give them a 27-21 lead.
Graves and the Rams (0-1) had one final chance and plenty of time left on the clock, but on a third-and-14 Graves threw his second interception of the game as senior Shawn Everett made the defensive play of the game.
“We didn’t execute as well as we should have,” said Graves, who was 14 of 22 passing for 180 yards and three touchdowns. “We moved the ball well at times and we need to stay balanced.”
On the final interception Everett dove to his left to come up with the interception as Graves threw it on the inside.
“They went cover four and I went through my read and he just made the right play,” Graves said.
Everett said that Graves opened up a little bit and that’s all he needed.
“We are locked into that mindset of never giving up and that’s what we did tonight,” said Everett as the Braves broke a two-game losing streak to the Rams. “I just had to seal the deal on that interception and it’s my senior year so I had to make that play.”
The Rams had built their big lead thanks to the running of Farrell Murchison and Quarderman Sloan. For Murchison, who sat out last season while recovering from testicular cancer, he punished the Braves on the inside while Sloan, a transfer from Murray State, did his work on the outside.
Murchison had 109 yards on 13 carries and Sloane had 61 yards on eight carries and had eight catches for 41 yards and a touchdown.
“This was a first game of the year so we have some positives to build on,” Massey said.
Belk, who is in his second season with WSSU, said the offense will have to continue to improve even though there were some good moments from the first game.
“We executed pretty well and it came down to a couple of plays but we needed to do things just a little better,” Belk said. “It was our first game and we knew there would be some jitters. We just couldn’t finish this one off.”
In the first half Graves threw two touchdown passes with the first one going to Quincy Jackson from 7 yards out. Jackson, one of the few starters back from last season, made a great one-handed catch to give the Rams a 7-3 lead after Pavel Buenaventura point-after attempt was good.
The Braves took the lead 10-7 on the first play of the second quarter when Josh Sheridan scored on a third-and-goal from the 5-yard line.
Late in the half Graves put together one of his best drives of his short career as the Rams went 90 yards in just over three minutes. Graves hit Sloane on a pass out of the backfield and Sloane did the rest by cutting up field to score from six yards out with 16 seconds to go. Buenaventura’s point-after attempt was good and the Rams led 14-10 at halftime.
WSSU will open its home portion of its schedule on Saturday at 6 p.m. against Catawba at Bowman Gray Stadium.
Massey said that final drive where the Braves’ offense spent so much time on the field can happen.
“That’s the nature of this game,” Massey said. “We shot ourselves in the foot a few times and that can’t happen. We will get better and move ahead from this.”
The Rams didn’t help themselves much with 14 penalties for 93 yards. A big penalty came on that game-winning drive with a roughing the passer penalty on Jones, who wound up 21 of 35 passing for 180 yards and he also rushed for a team-high 71 yards on 11 carries.
WSSU 7 7 7 0 - 21
UNC Pembroke 3 7 3 14 - 27
UNCP – Braswell 28 field goal
W – Jackson 7 pass from Graves (Beunaventura kick)
UNCP – Sheridan 5 run (Braswell kick)
W – Sloane 6 pass from Graves (Beunaventura kick)
W – Belk 78 pass from Graves (Beunaventura kick)
UNCP – Braswell 25 field goal
UNCP – Nelson 4 run (conversion failed)
UNCP – Hicks 14 pass from Jones (Prince run)
A – 3,583