Wolvesâ€™ junior quarterback Zack Gibson will need protection from his offensive line if heâ€™s to be able to pick apart a stubborn West Lincoln defense. Joseph Brymer / LTN Photo
For one team itâ€™s the biggest game in nearly five years; for the other itâ€™s business as usual.
One thing is certain: both want to win as badly as the other.
Lincolnton (2-2) will host the undefeated West Lincoln Rebels (4-0) Friday night at Lincolnton Memorial Stadium in a Midwest 2A Conference that is sure not to disappoint, at least on paper.
Wolvesâ€™ head coach Scott Cloninger is looking to the game as a clean slate coming off a lopsided loss to the defending 3A State Champion the South Point Red Raiders.
“It`s a very important game for us to straighten out a lot of the inconsistency we`ve had this year. It`s the first step in the conference, so it`s a new season basically,” he said.
Make no mistake about it; Cloninger is aware of how huge of a rivalry game this is.
â€œWe`ve always had good crowds, it`s a very good county rivalry. Over the years, us and West Lincoln have become a bigger rivalry than even East Lincoln.”
While one coach downplays the significance, Rebelsâ€™ head coach Butch Parker is looking at this game in a different light.
A key matchup in Fridayâ€™s game will be the two quarterbacks. West Lincoln sophomore QB Taylor Woodie will look to orchestrate a powerful running attack. Joseph Brymer / LTN Photo
“It`s not a regular game, and we`re not going to treat it like one. It`s two next door neighbors who go to church together, socialize together and it`s a special game regardless of the records,” he said.
Not only is it a big game with conference implications, but Parker feels itâ€™s the biggest game heâ€™s had in his three-year stint as West Lincolnâ€™s head coach.
“It`s the biggest game we`ve had in the three years since I`ve been there and I`m not going to act like it`s not. We`re going to put every ounce of energy into this, and even though West Lincoln/Lincolnton is a big rivalry, this one is a little more special,” he said.
More important to Cloninger than even the rivalry is that the matchup serves as another step on the ladder to the 2A State Playoffs.
“It`s a big rivalry, it really is. It`s a big game for us because we want to start conference play in the right direction and keep working on one of our goals which is trying to get to the playoffs,” he said.
For the Rebels, playing a team that routinely makes the state playoffs has one state championship and is rich in tradition, it doesnâ€™t get any bigger.
“It`s major. It`s what we`re striving for. They are the Lincolnton Wolves. They are known throughout the state. To beat them means you`ve beat one of the better 2A teams in North Carolina,” Parker said.
Both coaches and teams have a mutual respect for each other.
“I think they`ll have a huge crowd and it`s the best West Lincoln team I`ve seen since the mid-80s. They`re on a high right now and what would make their life even better than to start their season off 5-0 by beating us,” Cloninger said.
“They have the tradition, the history, are an extremely well-coached football team and it`s just an opportunity that we relish to go and battle them,” Parker said.
With a 13-0 victory over the Cherryville Ironmen in their last game, the Rebels are now eligible for the state playoffs but they are not satisfied or content with the bare minimum.
Cloninger believes that you can throw out both teamâ€™s records because come Friday night it wonâ€™t matter.
“It`s a new season. They`re 4-0 and we`re 2-2, but to be honest with youâ€”we`re both 0-0 and that`s the approach we`re taking.”
Parker does not feel the same way. For a team who is struggling for respect despite their unblemished record who could blame them?
“For them (Lincolnton), it`s a chance to start anew. I can`t throw our record out the window and I`m not going to. It`s got so much meaning to compete with them. On our level, it`s the ultimate game, but the season doesn`t end for the team who loses.”
by John Mark Brooks