Quarterback Brandon Travis rushed for two touchdowns, and a stout Spartan defense forced five turnovers as UNCG defeated the George Mason Patriots, 25-7, in their first game of the season. In front of a great turnout of Spartan faithful, it was the perfect start to the 2017 campaign for the up and coming program, which is looking to establish a football culture at the university.
“We all saw the fans. They got up; they applauded. It was amazing,” head coach Oscar Malone—who goes by ‘Coach O’—said after the game. “We need that. We need more and more fans to come out. If the chancellor, the president and student body can come out here, then we can actually make this work, and this program will have a football team. We can have homecoming. We can have a homecoming court. We can have everybody out here. It will be great for this university.”
UNCG led from literally the first play of the game. The return man for UNCG caught the opening kickoff on one hop, weaved through traffic and showed off his speed while he sprinted 90 yards to the end zone. The explosive touchdown set the tone for the entire game, and the Spartans never looked back.
“I’ll tell you the truth, [that return] set the season off. We couldn’t have asked for anything better,” Coach O said. “We blocked it perfectly. He just grabbed the ball, hit the left side and took it all the way.”
Later in the first quarter, UNCG linebacker Blaine Ayres snagged an errant pass from George Mason quarterback Shareef Abulhawa’s and ran it back to the Patriot 12 yard line. It was the first forced turnover of many to come for the dominant Spartan defense. George Mason mounted a defensive stand on the ensuing possession, but Travis scampered in for a touchdown on third and goal to make it 13-0 after a failed extra point.
The Patriots strung together a drive midway through the second—their only notable drive of the afternoon—and got on the board before halftime, 13-7. It wasn’t nearly enough. Between five tackles for loss, three sacks, three interceptions and three forced fumbles—including a clutch goal line strip of a George Mason receiver in the fourth quarter—the Spartans played aggressive and disciplined defense. And despite the offense often stalling—Spartans kicker Cody Wareham attempted four field goals on the day, making two of them—but scored just enough to keep the game out of reach of the Patriots.
The teams exchanged punts for much of the third quarter until Travis carried a Patriots defender on his way to his second score of the game to make it 19-7. In the fourth, an interception by Quan Pratt and Wareham’s two field goals proved to be the final nails in the coffin for an outmatched George Mason team.
“Last year we gave up 13 points a game, got a lot of interceptions. But, here, in this season… we’re playing lights out defensively. From Chigozie Umeofia to Quan Pratt to Blaine Ayres, the guys we have are sophomores and juniors. So we got those guys coming back [from last year].”
It ended up being a great afternoon for UNCG football, but it almost never happened. The game was supposed to start at 1 p.m,, but the game officials did not show until 1:27, a scheduling mishap on their end. UNCG would’ve had to forfeit if they had shown up after 1:30.
Justice McLaurin, a sophomore running back, went down with a broken wrist in the first quarter and was transferred to the hospital. His status for the remainder of the season is unclear. A George Mason player was also transferred to the hospital due to heat exhaustion.
The Spartans will make the trip up to Farmville, Virginia Sept. 23 to face Longwood University. Last season, the Spartans defeated Longwood 28-22 for their first win of the season here in Greensboro.