CHERRYVILLE–After a 38-0 home loss to South Caldwell on Sept. 16, the West Lincoln coaching staff made a decision.
The focus was going to shift back to the fundamentals.
In practice last week, the Rebels worked on the basics of blocking, tackling and execution of assignments.
And what a difference it all made Friday night as West Lincoln ran away from Cherryville 45-20 in a Southern Piedmont 1A/2A Conference opener.
A capacity crowd turned out at Rudisill Stadium to see another dog fight between bitter rivals.
Instead, the Rebels (1-5, 1-0) broke the contest open in the first half and breezed to their first victory in more than a year, snapping a 12-game losing streak.
“We went back to fundamental football,” West Lincoln coach Randall Gusler said. “I think what we did in practice made a big difference in our execution, especially up front. The offensive line did a real good job of blocking, and the defense played super.”
The Rebels` difficult non-conference schedule, against the likes of North Gaston, West Iredell, Maiden and South Caldwell, also paid dividends.
“We felt liked we played a very tough non-conference schedule. Wins are nice, but playing good quality opponents makes you a better team,” Gusler said.
The Rebels certainly were a better team Friday night, and they wasted no time in making a statement.
On the first play from scrimmage, quarterback Taylor Woodie hit running back Gene Arp with a 65-yard touchdown pass. The Rebels needed only 13 seconds to find the end zone.
Arp, a 5-11, 180-pound senior, would find his way to paydirt three more times. In the biggest game of his career, Arp accounted for 180 yards rushing and receiving and scored on three plays covering 60 yards or better.
And one of his touchdowns came on a 60-yard interception return of a pass from Cherryville quarterback Cameron Lovelace.
In addition, the Rebel senior scored on runs from scrimmage covering 61 and 24 yards.
The first play set the tone for what was to follow. No one in Cherryville blue picked up Arp coming out of the backfield, and he was all alone in the secondary when Woodie hit him over the middle.
Gusler said the play was designed to exploit a weakness that showed up in game films.
“It worked out and played into our hands just like we wanted,” Gusler said of the play. “We emptied out the backfield and went for one down the seam. Arp was all alone underneath.”
Just to show the opening play was no fluke, the Rebels went up 12-0 later in the first quarter on a 10-yard pass from Woodie to wideout Ben Poole.
On the first play of the second quarter, Arp ran 61 yards for a touchdown to make the score 18-0. Woodie passed to Poole for a two-point conversion.
The Ironmen (2-4, 0-1) finally put together a scoring drive later in the second quarter, and Lovelace hit tight end Chad Laskey with a 16-yard touchdown pass.
Cherryville got the ball back after a defensive stand and moved to the West Lincoln 18-yard line.
Two plays later, however, Lovelace was forced to make a hurried throw after avoiding the rush, and he tossed the ball right into the hands of West Lincoln defensive lineman Tony Hester.
Hester rambled down the field and was finally brought down at the Cherryville 27. Wingback Chase Harbinson scored two plays later on a 24-yard run on a trap play, extending the West Lincoln lead to 26-6.
Cherryville never threatened again as Arp added two second-half touchdowns, and Harbinson capped the West Lincoln scoring on a 30-yard run in the fourth quarter.
“This is the first step to the playoffs,” said Arp, who rushed nine times for 115 yards. “We have five more steps, and we are going to win them all.”
Woodie completed three of six passes for 90 yards, two of them for scores. Cherryville`s Lovelace passed for 175 yards, but his two interceptions led to West Lincoln touchdowns.
The Ironmen suffered a blow in the second quarter when senior fullback Ecquetin Johnson went out with a leg injury. He returned to the sidelines in the second half on crutches and wearning an air cast.
by Mike Powell