Long before football practice opened in July, West Lincoln coach Butch Parker circled three dates on the Rebels` non-conference schedule: Fred T. Foard in the season opener, East Lincoln on Aug. 27, and Cherryville on Sept. 10.
He circled Foard because the Rebels let that game slip away last season. He targeted East Lincoln because of the county rivalry and the perception that the Mustangs rubbed it in a 2003 blowout. And he put emphasis on Cherryville because last year`s lopsided loss to the Ironmen was the low point of his career.
Well, following Friday night`s 27-21 win over Foard, consider the first point of emphasis a smashing success.
Playing in front an enthusiastic home crowd, the Rebels avenged last year`s defeat at Foard and recorded their first season-opening win since 2001.
And Parker and his staff would not mind a repeat of that 2001 start, in which West Lincoln used a 30-6 win over the Tigers as a springboard to a 4-0 start.
It was the way West Lincoln won the game that sent a buzz through the crowd. The Rebels scored two touchdowns in the second half to erase a 21-13 deficit, the go-ahead score coming with just over four minutes remaining.
Then, the defense made a stand that repelled a Foard drive inside the West Lincoln 5-yard line in the final seconds.
West Lincoln showed poise and heart in the fourth quarter that was missing on last year`s 1-10 team.
“I think we won because we stayed composed. We have a lot more confidence than we did last year,” said sophomore quarterback Taylor Woodie, the offensive engineer of the victory.
Certainly, a year made a big difference in Woodie`s confidence. A tentative freshman a year ago, Woodie took control Friday night.
He turned a busted play into a 79-yard touchdown run in the third quarter and threw the game-winning touchdown pass in the fourth. The 5-10, 170-pound sophomore amassed 196 yards of total offense, ran for one touchdown and threw for two others, and also carried for a 2-point conversion.
West Lincoln`s new I-wing offense clicked for 314 yards rushing on 41 carries, and Woodie completed 5 of 9 passes for 60 yards.
The defense that was vulnerable to the big play continued to have problems in that area. However, when Foard marched down the field toward a potential game-tying touchdown, the Rebels made plays when they had to.
Two plays stood out in the final minute. Trailing 27-21, Foard had the ball and a first down at the Rebels 4-yard line following an 11-yard run by fullback Brandon Carson.
On the next play, Gene Arp got quick penetration and brought down Foard`s Ricky Gaither for a 3-yard loss.
Out of timeouts, the Tigers scrambled to get off a final snap. Tigers QB James Ruggles rolled to his left, got heavy pressure from lineman Antonio Rojo and lofted a short pass that was intercepted by linebacker Paul Chambers as time ran out.
It appeared Rojo hit Ruggles as he released the ball.
“I think I got my hands on his back and pulled him off balance,” said Rojo, who had two QB sacks in addition to his late-game pressure.
Trailing 13-7 at the half, the Tigers pulled off two big plays in the third quarter to take a 21-13 lead. Rod Griffith broke a 47-yard touchdown run less than a minute into the second half, then streaked 86 yards on the Tigers` next possession to set up Carson`s 4-yard scoring run.
It looked like deja vu at that point, with the game following the pattern of the 2003 meeting between the teams.
However, Woodie turned the game`s momentum around with one play. When pass coverage broke down on third and nine from his own 21, Woodie scrambled to his left, turned up field and outran the pursuit down the sideline.
Later, Woodie said the play was fouled up from the start.
“It was designed to be a rollout pass, but the pass blocking got mixed up. I could not have done it without my receivers doing a good job of blocking down the field,” Woodie said.
Foard`s defense held on the 2-point conversion attempt, and the Rebels still trailed 21-19 midway through the third quarter..
After the West Lincoln defense forced two straight punts, the Rebel offense mounted the game-winning 67-yard, eight play drive. With 4:08 left in the game, Woodie hit wideout Ben Poole on a slant-in route for a 17-yard touchdown. Woodie carried for the 2-pointer to put West ahead to stay, 27-21.
The top rusher in the game was Griffith, who carried 16 times for 184 yards. West Lincoln fullback Chambers rushed 10 times for 98 yards and a touchdown, and he got 66 of those yards on the Rebels` first play from scrimmage. Will Tallent had a solid night for the Rebels with 80 yards rushing.
by Mike Powell