WEST LIBERTY, W.Va. — A 67-yard touchdown run from Sincere Baines to start the third quarter fueled the offense for the UNC Pembroke football team as the Braves defeated West Liberty 37-19 on Saturday at the West Family Stadium.
The victory for the Braves (2-2, 1-2 MEC) snapped a two-game skid and marked the first victory on the road this season. The Hilltoppers (0-4, 0-3 MEC) have now dropped their last four games.
UNC Pembroke was forced to a three-and-out on their first offensive possession, but a roughing the kicker penalty handed the ball back to the Braves. Colin Johnson completed a pass to E.J. Gatling for a 12-yard gain. Johnson then rushed for a gain of 14 yards, but UNCP would have to settle for a 37-yard field goal from Ty Woods for the first score of the game to take a 3-0 lead.
In the second quarter, Jamae Blank forced a Rudy Garcia fumble which was recovered by Sean Hill and returned for five yards. Johnson rushed up the middle for 15 yards to get to the West Liberty 5-yard line. Johnson saw an opening and ran the ball in for a UNCP touchdown and a 10-0 lead.
Garcia completed a 13-yard pass to Jesse Collins and a penalty on the Braves moved the ball to the UNCP 23-yard line for the Hilltoppers. Khadeem Richards split the defense and rushed for 23 yards up the middle for a touchdown, cutting the Braves’ lead to 10-7.
Johnson connected with Baines for an 11-yard completion, followed by a 3-yard completion to Malik Tobias. Johnson found an open Gatling for an 11-yard touchdown pass to extend the Braves lead to 17-7, which it remained until halftime.
UNCP started with the ball to open the second half as Keshawn Jefferson returned the kickoff for an 11-yard gain. Baines broke free from the defense and took the ball to the end zone on a 67-yard run, making the Braves’ lead 24-7.
West Liberty’s Khadeem Richards rushed on back-to-back plays for a total of 15 yards, followed by a Garcia completion to Rashawn Harvey for an additional 9-yard gain. Garcia and Harvey connected again, this time in the end zone for a 5-yard reception; West Liberty cut the lead to 24-14.
UNC Pembroke’s Hill picked off a Garcia pass and ran the ball back 54-yards for a touchdown, extending the lead to 31-14.
West Liberty started a drive down the field, but the UNCP defense broke up three pass attempts. The Hilltoppers had to settle for a 30-yard field goal from Justin Kaplan to make it 31-17.
Johnson connected with Diaz Alexander down field for a 15-yard gain. Johnson and Diaz connected once again, this time for a 59-yard gain. Johnson completed a pass to JaQuan Kelly for an 11-yard touchdown. Ty Woods’ extra point was blocked by Delano Marcelus and Jordan Demus ran it back 91-yards for the defensive conversion; UNCP led 37-19.
There was no scoring in the fourth quarter.
Johnson completed 11 of his 24 pass attempts for 180 passing yards, and rushed 14 times for 60 yards.
Alexander caught a pair of passes for 74 yards, while Gatling caught four passes for 59 yards. Baines rushed five times for 96 yards and one touchdown.
Justin Foreman and LaTrell Jewsome each finished with eight tackles. Hill registered five solo tackles and one assist, while also scoring a touchdown off of an interception.
UNC Pembroke finished with 195 rushing yards while West Liberty had 74 yards on the ground. However, the Hilltoppers logged 272 passing yards while the Braves had 180 passing yards.
The victory marks the third consecutive victory for UNCP against WLU. The Braves improve to 4-1 all-time against the Hilltoppers.
The Braves will return to Pembroke on Saturday against Wheeling (3-1, 2-1 MEC) for Education Day. Kickoff is slated for noon at Grace P. Johnson Stadium.
Hill named MEC Co-Defensive Player of the Week
A key force on defensive and an outstanding performance during Saturday’s victory has helped Sean Hill be named Co-Defensive Player of the Week, the Mountain East Conference announced late Monday afternoon.
A native of Mooresville, Hill played a key role for the Black & Gold during Saturday’s victory by logging six tackles. The graduate student had one tackle for a loss of three yards and recovered a fumble for a gain of five yards. Hill’s performance was highlighted by an interception that he took to the back of the end zone for a 54-yard touchdown.
Hill leads the league in tackles with 42. He has tallied 21 solo tackles and 21 assists. His interception also marked the longest interception return this season for the Mountain East Conference.