DENVER–East Lincoln had another one of those bad stretches Monday night against Cherryville.
This time, however, the turnovers, the mental lapses and the penalties did not prove fatal. Not even close.
In fact, the Mustangs feasted on the mistakes of others for a change as they rolled to a 51-19 victory on a soggy, rain-swept homecoming night at David Clark Stadium.
East Lincoln returned two fumbles for touchdowns, the kicking game produced several big plays, and the offense made only three turnovers in a game played mostly in a driving rain.
The win moves the Mustangs to 2-1 in the Southern Piedmont 1A/2A Conference (3-5 overall), and the rest of the schedule looks favorable for a run at a postseason playoff berth.
After a visit to winless Bessemer City this Friday, East Lincoln plays its final two conference games at home spaced between an open date.
“We had a stretch just like we seem to do every game,” East Lincoln coach Mike Byus said. “We have about five or seven minutes where we seem to lose our heads. We don`t hustle. We don`t run plays right. We don`t tackle.”
Monday night, the pattern repeated itself in the second quarter after the Mustangs jumped ahead by scores of 15-0 and later 21-7.
Just when it appeared East might blow the game wide open in the first half, Cherryville (2-5, 0-2 SPC) answered with two touchdowns in which the drives were fueled by East Lincoln penalties.
Cherryville`s first scoring drive of the game stayed alive thanks to a roughing the kicker penalty on a punt. The Ironmen eventually scored on a 1-yard sneak by quarterback Cameron Lovelace.
Later in the second quarter, the Ironmen moved 85 yards on a series aided by two major penalties, the second of which gave Cherryville a first and goal at the East Lincoln 10.
And on the third Cherryville scoring drive of the game, the Ironmen benefited from a pass interference penalty deep in East Lincoln territory. After Lovelace hit Kalem Lovelace for a six-yard touchdown pass on a fade route, Cherryville was down by only two, 21-19.
And on the next series, the Mustangs made another mistake, this time in the form of an interception at the Cherryville seven-yard line with 1:09 to play in the half.
At that point, it appeared the Ironmen would run out the clock and take their newly-founded momentum into the dressing room.
Cherryville, however, did not play it safe enough. Instead of taking a knee twice to run out the clock, Lovelace handed off to running back Joaquin Lovelace on second down from the six.
The sophomore made a mistake on the play. He cut outside to get extra yardage after the Mustangs bottled up the middle. East Lincoln linebacker Jermaine Sellers and two other defenders pursued the play and forced a fumble near the goal line.
All Sellers had to do was pick up the loose ball in the end zone for a touchdown with 25.4 seconds to go.
After Ryaan Hultgren kicked the extra point to put East ahead 28-19, the stunned Ironmen tried to regroup on the ensuing kickoff.
But East Lincoln pulled off a perfectly executed squib kick and recovered the slippery football at the Cherryville 37-yard line.
Two plays netted 14 yards, just enough to get within the range of Hultgren, who kicked a 29-yard field goal as time expired.
Instead of going in with a precarious two-point lead, the Mustangs retired to the dressing room ahead 31-19.
The Ironmen had two chances in the third quarter to cut into the lead, but East Lincoln`s defense made two stops in its own territory.
The second stand followed a turnover by the East Lincoln offense that gave Cherryville the ball at the Mustang 24. A personal foul penalty moved the Ironmen inside the 10, but on fourth and goal, safety Thomas Huntley intercepted another fade pass intended for Kalem Johnson.
Huntley had free sailing down the sideline for an apparent 100-yard interception return. However, East Lincoln was flagged for an illegall block on the play, and the next series started from the Mustang 32.
On the first play of the possession, sophomore Adrian Forney, starting in place of injured senior Ryan Sykes, broke a run off the right side for 65 yards to the Cherryville 3-yard line.
Sellers, in his only carry of the game, ran through the middle for three yards and a touchdown to make the score 37-19 at the four-minute mark of the quarter.
The turnover and quick score by East finally broke the game open. In the fourth quarter, the Mustangs completed a run of 30 unanswered points on a 41-yard fumble return by Nick Harmon and a 60-yard tochdown run from Matt Warren on a counter reverse.
“They had two pops in the third quarter to trim the margin to less than one score, but we finally stopped them. That ended up in my mind as being the key, stopping them on downs and then getting a turnover,” Byus said.
The Ironmen lost four of 11 fumbles in the rain and had three passes picked off. Huntley had two of the interceptions, including the key one in the end zone. Sellers also had an interception in addition to his game-changing play at the end of the first half.
East Lincoln`s kicking game was generally excellent. Despite the conditions, Hultgren kicked first-half field goals of 30 and 29 yards. In addition, Ashaad Rendleman returned the opening kickoff 65 yards to set up Forney`s eight-yard scoring run only 41 seconds into the game.
In his first extensive action since Sykes`s injury in the Lincolnton game, Forney picked up 140 yards rushing on 14 carries.
On the negative side, the Mustangs were flagged 16 times for 143 yards in penalties.
During halftime ceremonies, senior Rachel Cochrane was crowned 2005 East Lincoln homecoming queen.
by Mike Powell