The UNC Pembroke football team achieved a pair of firsts Saturday with its 24-21 victory at Valdosta State in the opening round of the NCAA Division II playoffs. Rontonio Stanley rushed for 122 yards and a touchdown while the Braves’ defense intercepted four passes, including two in the fourth quarter by Matthew Thomas-Quick, to earn the first postseason win in school history. The victory was also UNCP’s 10th of the season, marking the first time in the program’s 10 years that it has reached double digit wins in a season. Coach Shane Richardson’s fifth-seeded team advances to a second-round matchup against top-seeded North Alabama next Saturday. The Braves (10-1) got off to a quick start against Valdosta State by jumping out to a 17-0 lead on a 28-yard field goal by Matt Davis, a five-yard Cliff Jones and a Stanley one-yard. But just as it appeared as though UNCP had taken control of the game, the Blazers began battling back. Valdosta State’s comeback began just before halftime when quarterback Adam Robles hit Dallas Baldner with a five-yard touchdown pass with only 14 seconds remaining on the clock. The fourth-seeded Blazers (8-3) built on their momentum early in the third quarter by by adding another score to narrow UNCP’s lead to 17-14. In the meantime, the Braves’ offense became its own worst enemy. Quarterback Patrick O’Brien threw three interceptions and Davis missed a field goal before O’Brien recovered to lead his team on a four-play, 77-yard drive that ended in a 44-yard touchdown pass to Quay Threatt. O’Brien completed 19 of 34 passes for 235 yards and the touchdown. Eight of those completions went to All-America B.J. Bunn, who had 153 yards to become the first receiver in school history to surpass the 1,000-yard mark in a season. Although O’Brien was intercepted five times, UNCP’s defense helped offset the damage by picking off four passes of its own. The two biggest came in the fourth quarter, after Valdosta State closed the gap to to just three on another touchdown pass from Robles to Baldner. The first came with 1:38 remaining when Thomas-Quick picked off a Robles pass near midfield. The second came about a minute later, when after a quick three-and-out by the Braves, Thomas-Quick ended the Blazers’ final threat with his second interception. Elijah Williams and Tyler Threatt also had interceptions for UNCP, which also had seven pass breakups while limiting Valdosta State to 225 passing yards. The Blazers entered the game ranked seventh nationally in Division II with an average of 320 passing yards per game. The loss was their first at home this season.
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