The Lincolnton Wolves (6-2, 4-0 Midwest 2A) will square off against the Shelby Golden Lions (7-1, 4-0) on Friday. To make matters worse for the Wolves, the Golden Lions will have revenge on their mind after losing to Lincolnton last year.
So what does Lincolnton need to do in order to beat the No. 1 team in the state according to head coach Scott Cloninger?
â€œWe just need to play one of those perfect games. Iâ€™ve always said in big games that something good needs to happen early,â€ he said.
The Wolves defeated Shelby in 2001 and again last year. Cloninger believes those two wins had something in common.
â€œThe two years weâ€™ve beat Shelby something good has happened early and it allowed us to gain some confidence. I think thatâ€™s the thing you have to do against them,â€ he said.
Trying to make plays for the Lincolnton offense will be 6â€™3â€™â€™ 195 pound tight end Dustin Metts who has proven himself in his senior campaign.
â€œDustin is probably the receiver with the best hands. He has a knack for getting open. Once he catches the ball, he runs well. I was expecting big things from him and heâ€™s having a good senior year,â€ Cloninger said.
Against a team that is averaging 40 points per contest, Lincolnton knows they will need to sustain drives.
â€œWeâ€™ve got to control the clock. They can score from anywhere on the field in seconds. You just try to keep the ball out of their hands as much as you can,â€ Cloninger said.
Cloninger is wary of what Golden Lionsâ€™ running back Van Eskridge in limited touches.
â€œWe need to keep them from the big plays. Eskridge had four carries for 111 yards against West. Youâ€™re just going to have to make them work the field,â€ he said.
Count Cloninger as one of coaches that feels that Shelby is as good as the hype that they receive.
â€œItâ€™s a huge task (to slow them down) because they are very good. They have to be the favorites to win one of the 2A Championships,â€ he said.
The coach believes Fridayâ€™s matchup could be a taste of whatâ€™s to come for the Wolves.
â€œThis is a measuring stick of how well we can do in the playoffs. How well you play against Shelby could be a big indicator of how far you can go in the playoffs,â€ he said.
Eskridge and Tavorris Jolly are the go-to backs in Shelbyâ€™s offense. Cloninger is particularly concerned about Eskridge.
â€œTheyâ€™re trying to get the ball in Vanâ€™s a little more. Jolly is a great runner, but in the films Iâ€™ve seen Eskridge is making bigger plays.â€
So what does Cloninger feel the biggest key to the ball game is?
â€œI think itâ€™s surviving the early storm. You need to battle and overcome whatever they throw at you early and survive it. Coach Smith always told me, â€˜If youâ€™ve got a chance at the end of the ball game to win the game, then youâ€™re in good shape.â€™ Thatâ€™s a goal we have this week to have a chance at the end.â€
by John Mark Brooks