SHELBY–Considering the formidable schedule and a roster dominated by underclassmen, Lincolnton football coach Scott Cloninger cannot be too disappointed with the Wolves` 4-1 record in the non-conference games.
That record could have been a spotless 5-0, but Friday night at Blanton Stadium, the Wolves ran into a team that was bigger and stronger up front and just as fast.
The Shelby Golden Lions dominated the game in the trenches and churned out a methodical 20-7 win over Lincolnton, dropping the Wolves from the unbeaten ranks.
The game lacked the drama one would expect from a clash of teams ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press state 2A poll. Although Shelby never pulled away completely, it was obvious the Golden Lions (3-1) were in control after they took a 14-7 lead midway through the second quarter.
The problem was a Lincolnton offense that went into the game averaging 37 points and nearly 400 yards but could do little in the second half against the quick-reacting Shelby defenders.
On five second-half possessions, Lincolnton punted three times, turned the ball over and lost possession on downs.
The running game managed 50 net yards, so the burden on offense fell to quarterback Zack Gibson, who completed 15 of 24 passes for 170 yards but was under constant pressure in the second half. The Golden Lions sacked Gibson four times in the second half for minus 25 yards.
Meanwhile, Shelby put together a steady, if not dominating, ground game led by backup fullback Doug Scott and wingback Tavorrus Jolly. Scott , a 6-0, 215-pound senior who normally plays linebacker, responded to the starting call by having a 100-yard plus night.
Jolly also went over the 100-yard mark and averaged just under 10 yards per carry. As a team, Shelby rushed 45 times for 264 yards.
The Golden Lions compiled those stats without fullback Arsenio Parks, who combined for 295 yards rushing against Ashbrook and Crest before suffering a toe injury that sidelined him Friday night.
“We were beaten by a better team,” said Cloninger. “They whipped us on both sides of the line of scrimmage. They are bigger and stronger than we are, and at times I thought they wanted it more than we did.”
But even though there was a hint of disappontment in his voice, Cloninger is not displeased with a 4-1 record heading into Southern Piedmont 1A/2A Conference play.
“If you would have told me we would be 4-1 at the beginning, I would probably take it. A loss is never good, but this might be a positive. We have been moving along and winning and everything has been great. Now, we get knocked on our tails. This might wake some people up.”
Despite Shelby`s control of the line of scrimmage, Lincolnton was just one big play away from getting back in the game. In fact, Lincolnton made things interesting with a late-game scoring threat.
Trailing 20-7, the Wolves started at their own 20 and clicked off gains of 35 yards on a toss sweep by C.J. Wilson and 20 yards on a screen pass from Gibson to Wilson.
On second and 10 from the Shelby 15, however, a receiver ran the wrong route and a desperate Gibson threw into coverage. The ball was batted around and fell into hands of Shelby`s Howard Thompson at the two-yard line with 5:39 left in the game.
On the next series, the Golden Lions picked up a key first down when Jolly ran 26 yards on an option play to give his team some breathing room.
Shelby coach Chris Norman breathed a sigh of relief with the turnover.
“That was a huge, huge play. They score there and it is 20-14, and then you`re looking at an onside kick and a mess of trouble,” Norman said.
After the first quarter ended with the score tied 7-7, Shelby broke on top for good on a four-yard run by Tavorris Jolly midway through the second quarter, capping a 77-yard drive.
The Golden Lions put together another scoring drive in the third quarter to extend their lead. Scott rambled 46 yards on the fullback belly play before Darrell Friday wrestled him down at the Lincolnton 15. Preston Roseboro ran a sweep to the left side for a touchdown on the next play.
Lincolnton scored its lone touchdown in the first quarter on a nine-yard slant from Gibson to Wilson, who had 66 yards receiving and 67 yards rushing for the game.
This week, the Wolves open Southern Piedmont 1A/2A Conference play at South Iredell while Shelby goes on the road to play Brevard in a non-conference game.
by Mike Powell