West Lincolnâ€™s Will Tallent tries to run his way through two Red Devil defenders. Tallent ended the game with 71 yards rushing. He had 64 of those yards in the first half. Newton made halftime adjustments that slowed the Rebels. Joseph Brymer / LTN Photo
NEWTONâ€”Even typically talkative West Lincoln coach Butch Parker was at a loss for words.
What Parker could not explain was why West Lincolnâ€™s offense closed down after a 70-yard, 15-play touchdown drive on the opening series Friday night.
The Rebels got nearly half of their total yardage on their first possession, and the defense finally fell victim to Newton-Conoverâ€™s excellent field position in the fourth quarter.
The Red Devils, 1-5 going into the Midwest 2A Conference game, scored with 2:26 left after trailing the entire game, and Cody Hopperâ€™s extra point proved to be the winning margin in a 7-6 victory.
It was the third straight loss for the Rebels (4-3, 0-3) after a 4-0 start, and it was the most stinging defeat yet.
â€œI donâ€™t know. It was just a tough loss. We are still searching for answers. I hate it for these kids because they put so much into it this week,â€ Parker said.
It was indeed mystifying that West Lincoln could not run or throw effectively against a Newton-Conover defense that ranked second-to-last (331 yards) in the conference.
Equally frustrating was the Rebelsâ€™ inability to convert after a touchdown. Jamie Ochoaâ€™s missed extra point in the first quarter did not seem all that important at the time, but it became critical later.
â€œOnce again, it comes back to extra points,â€ said Parker, alluding to a 21-18 loss to Lincolnton on Sept. 24 in which the Rebels were 0-3 on conversion attempts. â€œThat is the head coachâ€™s fault for not getting that fixed.â€
Certainly, no one could fault the West Lincoln defense for the way it played. The Rebels held Newton-Conover to 99 yards in total offenseâ€”45 rushing and 54 passing.
But even a stout defense could not overcome the field position the Red Devils enjoyed in the fourth quarter. Newton-Conover started its last three possessions at the West Lincoln 10, 35 and 18 yard lines.
The Red Devils eventually cashed in when fullback Shea Sample ran three yards into the end zone on fourth and goal. The scoring drive was set up by Jeremy Arnoldâ€™s 22-yard punt return.
On the next series, the Rebels advanced to the Newton-Conover 41-yard line, but turned the ball over on downs when quarterback Taylor Woodie could not connect with Heath Cole on a fourth-down sideline pass.
All the Red Devils had to do was to occupy the ball for the remaining 1:08.
The only noteworthy drive by either team came on the Rebelsâ€™ first series. The Rebels clicked off five first downs in a drive that consumed 8:39 of the first quarter and ended with Will Tallentâ€™s five-yard touchdown run off the right side.
It looked at that point like the Rebelsâ€™ running game was back where it was in mid-September. But the Newton-Conover defense answered the bell after getting punched in the mouth.
West Lincoln never mounted another serious threat. In the second half, the Rebels picked up two first downs, one of those coming on their final desperate possession. They had a net seven yards rushing in the final two quarters on 14 attempts.
And the passing game could not pick up the slack. Woodie wound up 2-for-13 for 24 yards.
â€œIt was like sharks in water,â€ Parker said of the attacking Newton-Conover defense. â€œThey saw that we were having trouble throwing the ball, and they just started sending people and sending people. We tried everything we knew to try. We ran the same plays in the second quarter as we did the first, but they didnâ€™t work.â€
How much did West Lincolnâ€™s offense fall off? After rushing for 64 yards in the first half, Tallent picked up seven yards in the second. Fullback Paul Chambers had 41 yards in the first half, nine in the second.
The win extended Newton-Conoverâ€™s lead in the series to 20-1. West Lincolnâ€™s lone win came last year.
Now the Rebels begin a brutal three-game stretch against the conferenceâ€™s upper echelon. Their opponent this week at home is Shelby, ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press 2A state poll. Newton-Conover (2-5, 1-2) plays at Lincolnton.
Right, Jon Thomas and Gene Arp led a stout defensive effort that held the Red Devils to 99 total yards. Joseph Brymer / LTN Photo
by Mike Powell