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Howling into the playoffs

Lincolnton did it again.
What looked to be their first competitive game since Sep. 30 against East Lincoln quickly turned into a route in the second quarter.
After only leading 7-0, courtesy of a 48-yard connection between Zack ‘Mr. Consistent’ Gibson and C.J. Wilson, the Wolves reeled off 21 second quarter points en route to another blowout victory 42-10.
The Wolves scored conventionally, as Wilson turned in a pair of one-yard scores and Gibson connected with tight end Demery Brewer twice for touchdowns.
They also scored unconventionally, as Derek Butler found fellow senior Demery Williams for a 23-yard score on a double pass with 5:34 remaining in the first half, giving the No. 2 team in the state at 21-0 advantage.
After the visitors pushed that lead to 28-0, North Lincoln used five plays to drive near the length of field before junior quarterback Trent ‘Ace’ Hopkins found fellow junior Montreal Wilson in the end zone with 10 seconds left.
With Lincolnton expecting a quarterback sneak, the Knights, with no timeouts remaining , ran a play-action pass. Wilson’s score was set up by a 52-yard catch and run by senior wideout Kyle Baker.
While the Wolves’ offense rightfully gets much of the publicity, it was the team’s rush defense that was just as impressive. Kenny Reed, Roger Rojas and Lance ‘Thank God It’s’ Friday stymied the Knights rushing attack, holding them to a stingy 66 yards on 28 carries.
On the offensive side of the ball, Lincolnton’s big three stepped up again with big performances. Gibson connected on 11-of-17 passes for 198 yards and three touchdowns. His go-to receiver Brewer, the team’s leading pass catcher, caught six passes for 92 yards as much came on a Lincolnton favorite the ‘hot route.’
“That’s an ol’ 1960’s play from Lincolnton High School. We’ve been able to run it and we’ve been able to run it very well. It was open tonight and that was one of the things they did give us,” Wolves’ head coach Scott Cloninger said.
Wilson, if it’s possible to have so many yards quietly, racked up 124 rushing yards on 19 carries and also had a 48 yards receiving with three touchdowns.
“They’ve got one of the best 2A teams in the state. That running back Wilson (C.J.) is good, Zack (Gibson) is good. We dropped some passes, had some breakdowns on blocking a little bit. We got to correct those this week or we’re not going to stay in the playoffs long,” North Lincoln head coach Matt Beam said, referring to his team’s seven dropped passes and inability to protect Hopkins.
Hopkins hit 13-of-34 passes with one touchdown and no interceptions against a talented secondary. Other ther bright spots for the Knights was the play of the defensive line (Cody Peeler and Zack Miller) and junior corner Josh McClain, who had two picks as the Wolves were driving down the field with ease.
McClain’s second pick of the night was spectacular, as he lept high before wrestling the ball away from a Lincolnton receiver.
Gibson, who has been under center four years, broke Lincoln County’s career passing record on a 20-yard strike to sophomore receiver Mardriekus Mayfield with 9:10 to play in the fourth quarter.
Josh Atkins (1992-1994) threw held the old mark with 4,840 yards. Gibson now has 4,857.
Lincolnton, who wrapped up a No. 1 seed in the west with Friday’s win, racked up 362 yards in total offense to go along with their solid defensive performance.
“I told our kids this is the first round of the playoffs and the intensity level needs to be there,” Lincolnton head coach Scott Cloninger said.
“That’s the way you have to go into the playoffs and I think our intensity was there tonight,” he added.
Lincolnton finishes the season 10-1 and 6-0 in the first year of the Southern Piedmont. For largely unsung seniors Williams and Butler, winning a conference crown in their final prep year makes it that much sweeter.
“I’d like to give honor to God for letting us win the conference championship. I’ve been here four years and it’s nice to win conference your senior year and to go undefeated,” Williams said. “Knowing you’re going to be a good seed in the playoffs is nice, but we got to take one game at a time. We can’t worry about what’s going on next week. We just got to take one game at a time, play play by play and then bigger things will happen in the future,” he added.
NOTES: North Lincoln senior place-kicker Jay Wissman booted a 41-yard field goal with five seconds remaining.
Sans the dropped passes, the Knights had a good night receiving as Wilson had seven catches for 54 yards, Baker had two receptions for 63 yards and Devin Borders had three catches for 55 yards.
Lincolnton had 16 first downs compared to 12 from North Lincoln. Both quarterbacks, from an accuracy standpoint, should have finished with over 200 yards passing.
by John Mark Brooks

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