The Lincolnton Wolves look to extend their winning streak to four games Friday against the Newton-Conover Red Devils. So whatâ€™s been the key to their recent success?
Head coach Scott Cloninger believes he knows.
â€œEverybody has become a little more consistent. Weâ€™ve eliminated a lot of mistakes both mental and physical,â€ he said.
With an experienced offensive line already established and junior quarterback Zack Gibson returning the Wolves offense was expected to have a solid year. But facing tough Maiden and South Point defenses in their non-conference schedules the offense sputtered early.
Cloninger and his coaching staff believed in his line from the jump even during their early struggles.
â€œWe knew that our line would have a pretty good year. They struggled early, but it has just taken time for them to get it together,â€ he said.
What makes any football team good is balance. The Wolves have plenty of that as they go to the air or keep it on the ground with equal authority.
â€œWeâ€™re playing better. Weâ€™re able to throw or run and I think thatâ€™s what helps us,â€ Cloninger said.
Gibson has had his bright spots this season. Against the West Lincoln Rebels every throw but one was on the money. Then in the waning moments of that game he suffered a knee injury that sidelined him for the Chase game.
A heralded JV quarterback, Madriekus Mayfield, stepped in and was 6-for-8 for 187 yards and three touchdowns. Some of the Lincolnton faithful thought he was the way to go at QB but Cloninger and the coaching staff knew how talented Gibson was and elected to stay with experience.
The result was a 12-for-23 204 yard three touchdown performance, one that did not surprise Cloninger.
â€œHeâ€™s doing what I expected him to do. In the preseason he was sharp, then we had some good competition and he just didnâ€™t have time to throw. I think heâ€™s loosened up a little bit. Heâ€™s found out now that he doesnâ€™t have carry the team. There are some people around him that have helped take the load off him.â€
The Wolvesâ€™ backfield is loaded with Fridays: Darrell, Lance and Dusty. Cloninger believes all three are performing at a high level.
â€œWe have three running backs that are doing an excellent job for us in the backfield. Each one of them brings a little different dimension to the game,â€ he said.
â€œDusty sees the field well. Lance is a sneaky strong back. Darrell reminds me of the energizer bunny, heâ€™s going full-speed all the time. He never runs out of juice,â€ Cloninger added.
So has Lincolnton excelled beyond expectations? According to Cloninger and the rumbling before the season began, yes.
â€œWhen the season started people felt that Shelby, East Rutherford and Bandys were head and shoulders above the rest of us. I feel like weâ€™re inching up towards the upper echelon of the conference. I think our players are achieving at a level that not many people expected them to be in,â€ he said.
As for the present, Lincolnton looks to up its mark to 4-0 in the Midwest 2A which they will need as they prepare for the stretch run of the season that includes the No. 1 team in the state Shelby, then Bandys and East Rutherford.
Despite the strong play, donâ€™t call the Wolves the â€˜Oâ€™ wordâ€” as in overachievers. Cloninger chooses another word to describe them â€˜heart.â€™
â€œAre we overachievers? I think right now we have a lot of heart.What Iâ€™m happiest about is theyâ€™re theyâ€™re learning to play this game with a lot of heart. I tell them every Friday, something good and something bad is going to happen to youâ€”itâ€™s how you respond to it,â€ he said.
More than halfway through the season, itâ€™s safe to say the Wolves have responded just fine. by John Mark Brooks