Nov. 5—SOUTH EUCLID, Ohio — One of the mantra's of Shane Richardson's football program at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke is that the team plays with the same mindset and mentality each week, regardless of the opponent.
But even acknowledging that mantra, the Braves know they'll have to play at their best Saturday when they travel to Ohio to face Mountain East Conference-leading Notre Dame College at noon.
"They're a good team for a reason, for sure," Richardson said. "We look at games this season that we've come up short in and we've got to have a motivation for that not to happen. We know we're playing a quality team, so you can't allow little things to come back and haunt you that you have not done well in the past. You've got to learn, and you've got to move forward, and you've got to be at your best."
Notre Dame (7-2, 7-1 MEC) leads Concord by one game atop the MEC standings; UNCP (5-4, 5-3 MEC) is among four teams tied for third, two games behind the Falcons, who won the MEC championship last year. Notre Dame hasn't lost in regulation in conference play this season — with their lone league loss at Frostburg State coming in double overtime — and has outscored opponents 109-31 during a three-game winning streak since that loss.
"I think (Notre Dame) plays harder for longer. I think that's a major key to winning," Richardson said. "You watch their film, I think they play really hard, and they're aggressive. They're very sound with what they do and they continue to be very consistent at the level of play that they execute at."
While statistics like yards for and against, in both the rushing and passing game, aren't necessarily as lopsided as could be expected from a conference leader, Notre Dame's red-zone defense has been a key to its success. Falcons opponents have scored a touchdown on just 13 of 26 red-zone chances, and have scored points on 20 of 26.
"We just have to make sure that we are sticking to the plan, we're sticking to what we practiced all week long, and sometimes what happens is you get into game situations and the teams that aren't successful, they abandon the plan or they forget how to execute it," Richardson said. "You've got to stick to the plan. I think we've got a very good plan in the red zone and we can execute well at times in the red zone, which we have this year. We've just got to do that, we've got to be consistent right there."
Quarterback Chris Brimm has completed 59.1% of his passes this season, throwing for 2,060 yards, 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Brimm's primary targets include Jeremy Hamilton (506 receiving yards, two touchdowns), Reece Perkins (309 receiving yards, two touchdowns) and Napoleon Harris (270 receiving yards, one touchdown). Idris Lawrence (767 rushing yards, seven touchdowns) is the team's rushing leader.
"Nobody can afford to let their guard down at any moment," Richardson said. "We've tried to make sure that we're coming up with the best plan possible, and guys have to make sure they buy into it. If guys are energetic and enthusiastic about the effort they're giving, I think we can stand up against that and I think we can play really good defense."
Defensively, Nathan Moore (95 tackles, 10 tackles for loss) has twice as many tackles as any other Falcons player; Wendell McClain (four interceptions) and Jacalyn Morrison (three interceptions) are key secondary playmakers.
While UNCP is a perfect 4-0 at Grace P. Johnson Stadium this season, the Braves are 1-4 on the road.
"We have to prove we can go and win against a good team," Richardson said. "We've got one road win this year, and that game was even close, it was a one-point game. We've got to be our best, we've got to take this show on the road and prove that we can win against a good opponent."
Last season's meeting was the first between the programs; Notre Dame won 45-7 in Pembroke. This was one of two blowout losses suffered by the Braves in 2021; the Braves have already defeated the other opponent, Frostburg State, this season.