As Yogi Berra would say, “it`s deja vu all over again” for West Lincoln.
After a hard-earned 13-0 win over Cherryville Friday night, the Rebels find themselves in the same position as they were in 2001â€”undefeated heading into the conference opener against rival Lincolnton.
At 4-0, West Lincoln has matched its best start in four years, and they have a date with the Wolves Sep. 24 in the Midwest 2A opener at Lincolnton Memorial Stadium.
But as far as this West Lincoln team is concerned, the Rebels want the feeling of deja vu to end in two weeks. The 2001 Rebels lost to Lincolnton after leading the Wolves deep into the fourth quarter, and that began a free fall that lasted the rest of the season. West lost seven straight, all in the conference, to finish 4-7.
“We are going over there to battle, and our goal is to reverse the outcome of what happened four years ago,” said Rebels coach Butch Parker, who was an assistant at Maiden when the Rebels started the 2001 season 4-0.
It will be the most important game in Parker`s three-year stint as coach.
“We are going to call it the Lincoln County championship” he said. “We have both beat East (Lincoln), and North Lincoln will just have to join in that battle next year.”
To put themselves in this position, the Rebels had to overcome some adversity before a good-sized home crowd at Douglas C. Leonhardt Stadium. Cherryville (0-3) outplayed West Lincoln in the first half that ended 0-0, and the Rebels lost starting quarterback Taylor Woodie to a hard hit late in the second quarter.
However, thanks to a defense that intercepted three passes and recovered a fumble in the second half, the Rebels were able to ease past the Ironmen and avenge last season`s 41-8 drubbing at Cherryville.
West Lincoln added to its plus turnover ratio for the season by converting two Cherryville miscues into touchdowns and playing a turnover-free game on offense and special teams.
The first break in the defensive battle came on Cherryville`s first series of the third quarter. West Lincoln linebacker Jon Thomas intercepted a Steven Hoyle pass that was tipped at the line of scrimmage.
The pick gave the Rebels possession at the Cherryville 44, and they cashed in seven plays later on tailback Gene Arp`s 1-yard run.
The key play in that drive came on fourth and five from the 39, when backup quarterback Cole Reynolds hit Ben Poole with a 31-yard completion to the Cherryville eight. No Cherryville defender was close to Poole.
“What better time to go deep?” Parker said of the play. “We felt like it was a time where we needed to make something happen. It was a tough situation for Cole (Reynolds), but he did an extraordinary job for his team.”
Trailing 7-0, the Ironmen turned it over for the third straight time on Ecquetin Johnson`s fumble at his own 41 with 10:44 left in the game. Lineman Spencer Sutton made the recovery for the Rebels.
On the ensuing drive, Arp picked up 31 yards on four carries, and fullback Paul Chambers ran three yards through the middle to make it 13-0.
That lead was more than enough as the West Lincoln defense forced a punt and intercepted a pass on Cherryville`s final two possessions. The Ironmen turned the ball over on four of their five second-half possessions.
Thomas batted down a pass in addition to picking off Hoyle. Dustin Hester and Daniel Soto had the other interceptions.
Woodie, the Rebels` sophomore QB, was held out in the second half as a precautionary measure after absorbing a hit behind the line of scrimmage. Parker said he made the decision after consulting with the team trainer.
Reynolds completed 2 of 4 passes for 28 yards as Woodie`s replacement.
The West Lincoln defense clamped down on Hoyle after the Cherryville QB completed 7 of 11 in the first half for 77 yards. The Rebels also contained Johnson, the 6-1, 220 junior tailback, holding him to 50 yards on 19 carries.
Arp, who started at tailback for West in place of the injured Will Tallent, was the workhorse back with 89 yards on 25 carries. Chambers gained 54 yards on 12 attempts.
Cherryville was in Rebel territory three times in the first half, but could not score. The Ironmen`s best drive ended with Luis Fernandez missing a 35-yard field goal attempt.
“We did everything right in the first half except score,” Cherryville coach Richard Davis said. “We had a couple of drives but things went awry. I felt that it would be a defensive battle and turnovers would decide it, and it did.”
With the non-conference schedule completed, the Rebels have two weeks to prepare for the Wolves.
“As far as Lincolnton goes, they are the benchmark of Lincoln County football,” Parker said. “Everybody strives to get on the same level with them. We are not there yet. We know that.”
Lincolnton is 2-2 after dropping a 41-7 decision to South Point Friday night. The Wolves also have an open date this week.
West Lincoln`s last win over Lincolnton came in 1998.
by Mike Powell