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Hawks fall to UNC-P

MURFREESBORO – Most of the time when you invite a ‘first-timer’ to your house for a celebration they show some respect.

Not so for UNC-Pembroke, who came into town and spoiled Chowan’s 2007 Homecoming celebration as the visiting Braves took a 26-20 win Saturday at Garrison Stadium.

&uot;Our kids fought their butts off,&uot; said a disappointed Chowan University coach Lorick Atkinson after the game. &uot;We just came up short&uot;.

It was also a day of first in a season of firsts for the opponents. After discontinuing football after the 1950 season, the Braves are playing their first season after re-starting the program this fall following the 56-year hiatus. 

It was also their first win against an NCAA Division-II opponent, and first time they amassed a school-record 473 yards of total offense. Despite surrendering that much turf to an opponent, Atkinson had kudos for his defense.

&uot;Our defense played great, said Atkinson.  &uot;They gave us a chance to win it.&uot;

Freshman defensive back Aaron Hawkins, who was sixth in the nation in interceptions according to last week’s National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division-II statistics, helped anchor that defense coming off the bench to make 11 tackles.

The game also featured another stellar performance from fellow defensive back, Lawrence Academy grad senior Gabe White, who had nine tackles and his first interception of the season which he returned for 44 yards.

In fact, Chowan used three UNCP turnovers to keep it close, while also utilizing 100 yards of UNCP penalties.

Offensively, the Hawks were led by senior quarterback Josh Floyd, who returned for his first game behind center since suffering an injury in the September 15 win over Methodist and sitting out the Brevard game a week ago.

The Chesapeake, Virginia native came in late in the first quarter and passed for 181 yards and a pair of touchdown and had an additional 28 yards rushing. 

Sophomore running back Spruce Lee had his first touchdown of the season on 31 yards rushing with 22 more yards receiving.

&uot;Everybody came out hard,&uot; said Lee afterward. &uot;Things just didn’t go our way. We’re right there, things just aren’t falling into our hands. We’re getting better every week, we just can’t get it right now&uot;

Chowan played from behind the entire game.

On UNCP’s first drive the Braves drove 70 yards and scored their first touchdown when quarterback Cory Smith hit receiver Justin Funderburk in the open field and Funderburk raced down the sideline 51 yards to the end zone.  Andrew Williams point-after kick made it 7-0, UNCP. 

Chowan then got the first of three turnovers inside UNCP territory when Brandon McLaurin coughed up the ball on their own 42-yardline and Brandon Baxter made the recovery for the Hawks. The drive stalled and Chowan had to punt the ball away.  

UNCP wasted little time taking advantage as third-string quarterback Ryan Horton delivered an 83-yard bomb to Al Bryant on the first play from scrimmage, and despite the missed extra-point, the Braves had a 13-0 lead.

Chowan finally got on the board when Floyd entered the game with under four minutes to go in the quarter and helped engineer an 84-yard drive that was capped when Craig Houck hauled in a 39 yard pass from Floyd with less than a minute to play in the quarter. However, the Corey Cline point-after kick was wide of the uprights and the Hawks trailed, 13-6.

UNCP opened the second quarter as they had in the first with a successful scoring drive, going 59 yards in nine plays as Cory Smith completed his second touchdown pass of the game on a nine-yard rollout to Justin Ruffin.  This time Williams’ PAT kick was good and the Braves pushed the lead back to two touchdowns at 20-6.

The Braves then had their second turnover of the game when White swooped in and grabbed an errant UNCP pass near the end zone and returning it to near midfield. 

Again the Hawks could not capitalize and had to punt the ball away, but fortune swung their way once more when on UNCP’s possession linebacker Greg Palmer sacked Smith for a loss and the Braves’ short punt set up Chowan for a 71-yard drive that was capped by Lee’s touchdown. This time Cline’s kick found its mark and Chowan trailed by just a touchdown at halftime, 20-13.

Chowan looked as if they might seize the momentum when C’Darrius Wright returned the opening kickoff of the second half 42 yards to the UNCP 44-yardline. Chowan drove to the Braves’ 26-yardline, but a Cline field goal attempt was wide left and the score remained at 20-13.

Chowan’s defense held on UNCP’s possession, but the punt meant the Hawks had to start their drive at the 11-yardline.

On third-and-long from the 14, and playing out of the shotgun, Floyd was sacked in the end zone by Dwayne James as he tried to scramble, the ball popped loose, and UNCP’s Ben Kurti fell on it for the touchdown. Despite the blocked PAT, the Braves had doubled up the Hawks, 26-13.

The Hawks bounced back to score for the first time in the third quarter all season. Floyd put together an 86-yard drive capped by his second touchdown of the day: a 10-yard strike to Louis Williams and the Hawks cut the lead to just six points at 26-20.

Neither team scored in the fourth quarter, but Chowan kept the crowd of over 1,400 on the edge with some great effort.  UNCP’s Williams missed a field goal attempt and one series later a Ysidro-Juan Wilks sack of the UNCP quarterback gave Chowan the ball at the UNCP 38, but the Hawks failed to convert and turned the ball over on downs. 

Wilks came back to record another sack near midfield forcing a UNCP punt with over five-and-a-half minutes to play, but Chowan again could not capitalize as a Floyd pass to a diving C’Darrius Wright in the endzone was just off his fingertips.

&uot;We’ve got to work on our mental mistakes,&uot; sighed Wilks, who now leads the team with four sacks. &uot;That, and execution.&uot;

&uot;It was just a good, tough college homecoming game,&uot; said D’Angelo Goffigon, &uot;(Our effort) meant a lot to the football team – and to this institution – because we’re trying to turn things around.  Coach is pushing us, we just gotta get ready for Coastal.&uot;

The Hawks fall to 1-5 on the season and after a week off next weekend, travel to Conway, South Carolina near Myrtle Beach to meet the first of their two Division I-AA opponents in Coastal Carolina on October 13.  It will also be Chowan’s first night game of the season with a 7 p.m. kickoff.

&uot;We’ve had a grueling grind since August,&uot; said coach Atkinson. &uot;We’re banged up a little bit, so we’re going to try to get well and move forward.  Nothing to rest on, we’ve got a big one coming up with Coastal.

&uot;That,&uot; he said with a smile, &uot;and we’re going recruiting.&uot;