DALLASâ€”Lincolnton coach Scott Cloninger did not pull any punches when asked about his team`s offensive showing in the first half of Friday night`s game with North Gaston.
“We stunk it up again,” Cloninger said bluntly.
In fact, the Wolves were lucky to be trailing only 6-0 after quarterback Zack Gibson was sacked three times in the first half and the running game generated only 27 yards on 17 attempts.
The second half, however, was a far different story.
The Wolves drove 51 yards on their first possession of the third quarter, setting the tone for a 21-point second half that produced a hard-fought 21-14 victory.
Not only did the offense find some life, the Lincolnton defense limited the Wildcats to one second-half touchdown and recovered two North Gaston fumbles inside its own 10 in the final seven minutes.
The second recovery came with 49 seconds remaining at the Lincolnton 7-yard line.
“It was a good win for us. We needed it after last week,” Cloninger said in reference to a 29-6 season-opening loss to Maiden.
The game featured three lead changes and the kind of dramatic ending that has come to be typical of this series.
“We have played them a triple overtime game. We have played them an overtime game. It is just a great rivalry right now between North Gaston and Lincolnton. Their crowd was loud and ours was loud,” said Cloninger.
Lincolnton`s bend-but-don`t-break defense gave up 233 yards passing by North Gaston QB Jeff Johnson and 144 yards rushing from Rafael Littlejohn. However, the Wolves made plays when they had to.
The game-deciding play came on North Gaston`s final possession. Trailing 21-14 with under a minute left, the Wildcats (1-1) faced a fourth and one at the Lincolnton five-yard line.
Littlejohn took the handoff and fumbled, but the Wolves swarmed to the ball and appeared to have the play stopped short of the first down anyway.
Whatever adjustments Cloninger made at the half, the Wovles clicked on offense in the third quarter. Darrell Friday powered 21 yards for Lincolnton`s first touchdown, running through the last North Gaston defender inside the five. The drive took only 1:58 and produced Lincolnton`s first lead at 7-6.
North Gaston came back the next time it had the ball, moving 70 yards in 12 plays to regain the lead at 14-7. Johnson passed 24 yards to Jake Campbell for the TD, and Campbell ran for the 2-pointer off a fake extra point kick.
The Wolves then scored two unanswered touchdowns. Dusty Friday had an eight-yard run with 21 seconds left in the third quarter, and Jacquece Reeves scored the go-ahead TD on a 2-yard plunge at the 10:15 mark of the fourth quarter.
After the Reeves touchdown, the Wolves scored the 2-point conversion while operating out of a spread offense. The confused Wildcats left Darrell Friday open and Gibson completed an easy pass to make it 21-14.
Demory Williams set up the clinching touchdown with a 42-yard punt return off a reverse that carried to the North Gaston two-yard line. It was a play on special teams Lincolnton has used often over the years.
Darrell Friday was the top Lincolnton rusher with 59 yards on six carries. He got 27 of those on a reverse in the third quarter. Reeves, a linebacker who filled in at running back in the second half after Lance Friday got hurt, picked up 37 yards on seven carries.
Dustin Metts was Gibson`s top target with three catches for 50 yards. Jake Campbell had four catches for 100 yards for the Wildcats.
“We are getting better,” summed up Cloninger. “Offensively, we played decent in the second half. And the defense saved it for us.”
The Wolves play county rival East Lincoln at home this Friday.
by Mike Powell