Pembroke, NC --
Spurred by junior receiver Sean Wright’s (Simpsonville, SC/Mauldin HS) three touchdown catches along with four interceptions and a fumble recovery by a stingy defense, the North Greenville Crusaders (8-3) won their seventh consecutive game and a berth in the National Christian Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCCAA) Victory Bowl with a 27-10 victory over UNC-Pembroke at Johnson Stadium.
NGU dominated time of possession hanging onto the ball for 35 minutes in the game, but it was the Crusader defense that turned away five drives by Pembroke (four late in the game) with key takeaways that sealed the game. Wright had his best game as a Crusader with seven catches for 107 yards and the three TD’s, and quarterback Willy Korn completed 13-21 passes for 168 yards. North Greenville’s balanced attack remained that way again as freshmen running back Idris Anderson (Dallas, GA) carried 16 times for 89 yards and one touchdown and fellow freshman Marcus Wilson (Macon, GA) had 15 carries for 84 yards.
North Greenville’s eight wins gives this year’s team the second best season in school history. They also tied the school mark for consecutive wins at seven and earned the university’s third trip to the NCCAA national championship, or the Victory Bowl. The host site and date will be announced next week.
Pembroke, which was ranked in the NCAA Division II top 25 in pre-season, scored first on a Taylor Baskett field goal from 17 yards out with 8:39 left in the first quarter. The Braves had driven to the NGU seven yard line, but the Crusaders held and forced the field goal. That was UNC-P’s final points until they scored a touchdown with 28 seconds left in the game.
NGU took over from there and ground out a 14 play, 77 yard drive that consumed 6:39 off the clock. Wright snared three big catches on the drive, including an 11-yard touchdown with 1:53 left in the first quarter. Stephen Arneson’s kick missed, and NGU took a 6-3 lead.
Pembroke, which actually out-gained the Crusaders 354-353 in total offense in the game, started another long drive, and were on the NGU three yard line when junior cornerback Jamarius Robinson intercepted Luke Charles’ pass in the end zone to snuff out another Brave threat.
After Korn’s fumble was recovered by Pembroke on NGU’s next possession, the Crusaders forced another Brave punt. Korn connected with Freddie Martino on two passes that gave North Greenville first downs, setting up Anderson’s 14 yard touchdown run with 8:39 left. Arneson connected this time and NGU took a 13-3 lead.
UNC-P again put together a long drive, but Baskett missed a 42 yard field goal attempt. North Greenville then marched the opposite direction only to see the drive stall on a fourth down play when Korn was sacked. NGU made Pembroke punt yet again and the Crusaders got the ball at the 50 yard line with 21 seconds left. Korn found a streaking Wright wide open and he dashed into the end zone for his longest touchdown reception to date. Arneson kicked yet another extra point and NGU led 20-3 at the half.
Pembroke came out of the locker room ready to play and immediately drove to the NGU 33 yard line, but freshman Quay McQueen tackled Anthony Lloyd three yards short of a first on a fourth down and the Crusader defense rose once again. Korn then mixed plays as North Greenville drove 78 yards in 11 plays ending with Wright’s third touchdown reception, a leaping grab from three yards out. Arneson’s kick made it 27-3.
The Crusader defense turned steely under pressure at the end of the third quarter. Nathan Batchelor (Spartanburg, SC) intercepted two passes, Isaiah Johnson (Fort Lawn, WI) had another pick, and Quay McQueen (West Point, GA) recovered a fumble on Pembroke’s next four possessions. What was significant was that all four turnovers were deep in Crusader territory. The first of Batchelor’s picks was at the NGU five yard line and the other was in the end zone, which turned away two scoring threats. Johnson’s interception was at the NGU five and McQueen’s fumble was on the NGU 15.
Cory Smith came off the bench for Pembroke and hit Lloyd with a 20 yard touchdown pass with 28 seconds left and the game safely in the win column for NGU.
"Our team took care of business when they needed to in this game and it will give our seniors at opportunity to lace it up for North Greenville one more time this season,” NGU head coach Jamey Chadwell said. “We got off to a bad start, but we got rolling and scored four straight times in the first half. But, our defense played extremely well when they had to. When Pembroke drove the ball, we bent, but never broke. Nathan Batchelor made two big picks and Isaiah Johnson, who hadn’t played corner since the Presbyterian game, got another one. We made them work and to be honest, our team was hungry. They realized they had a unique opportunity today and they went after it.”
“Sean Wright had a great game,” said Chadwell,who received his first water bucket bath courtesy of his team after the win. “Pembroke didn’t something different against us by trying to stop our running game, so the pass was there. Willy Korn did a nice job spreading the ball around when their corner shot in trying to stop the run.”
“A big momentum changer was when they were trying to run the clock out at the end of the first half, but we got the ball and Willy hit Sean for a long touchdown that gave us a big lead at the half. That took a lot of the wind out of their sails."
“This was a great win for our program. Pembroke beat us by 28 points last year and for us to beat them by 17, that’s a 45 point swing in only one year. They had outscored their opponents by over 80 points in the second half this season, and our defense really came on and finished them off. I’m extremely proud of these guys and happy we get to play one more game.”