Lincolnton used a stout defensive effort, another standout performance by sophomore running back C.J. Wilson and senior leadership from quarterback Zack Gibson to howl their way into the Western Regional finals with a 28-6 victory over Charles D. Owen High School Friday night at Lincolnton Memorial Stadium.
The Wolves limited Owen to 135 all-purpose yards as the defense stepped up despite senior linebacker, and leading tackler, Lance Friday being hobbled after spraining his left ankle in the first half.
Linebackers Caleb Grooms and Jeremy Smith did serviceable job in trying to fill the void left by Fridayâ€™s departure.
â€œLance is our strongest linebacker and when I saw him get hurt, that made me play harder because we had to fill in for him,â€ Smith said.
Seniors Kenny Reed and Mikey Bracey, along with senior Roger Rojas, were big reasons the Warhorses managed only 3 yards per carry.
Reed finished with five tackles, including one for a loss and Bracey, from his defensive end position, had four tackles and a sack.
It seemed the Wolves blew a golden opportunity on the first drive, after back-to-back dropped touchdown passes.
After an 11-play drive resulted in no points, the Wolves defense forced a punt on the Warhorsesâ€™ first possession.
Senior return man Shane Faw did the rest, picking up huge blocks, including the main one (a decleater by Drew Mullen) to spring him for the first score of the night, a 75-yard punt return for six with 35 seconds left in the first quarter.
â€œI love my linemen on that. They just blindside them and hit them hard. They give me good blocks, I get up field and run as hard as I can,â€ Faw said.
â€œYou know they call me Shane â€˜Made Emâ€™ Faw. They call me that for one reason â€” because I make them fall out there,â€ a confident Faw added.
On the Wolvesâ€™ ensuing possession, senior Derek Butler, who wasnâ€™t expected to play with a knee injury, made his presence felt in a big way on his only play of the game.
From 38 yards out, Gibson wheeled and tossed the ball to Butler behind the line of scrimmage, who found a wide-open Wilson down the middle of the field for Lincolntonâ€™s second touchdown. George Ramirezâ€™s second point after gave the Wolves a 14-0 lead as they entered the locker room.
Owenâ€™s Roderick Smith blocked a punt in the first few minutes of the second half, setting up the Warhorses at Lincolntonâ€™s 20-yard line.
Five plays later Chris Roberts helped Owen whittle the No. 1 seedâ€™s lead to 14-6. Lincolnton partially blocked the extra point.
As the Wolves have done all season, they quickly answered with a score of their own. Gibson found sophomore tight end Demery Brewer for a 20-yard gain, as Gibson demonstrated perfect touch and Brewer reeled in the ball over his shoulder.
The big play set up Gibson connecting with Wilson for Wilsonâ€™s second touchdown of the night, this time of the 41-yard variety.
Desperately needing a score on fourth and five, senior Darrell â€˜Chiefâ€™ Friday knocked down a pass to force a turnover on downs from the Lincolntonâ€™s 33-yard line.
Lincolnton put the game away, using a 13-play drive culminated with Gibson taking it in from one yard out. Ramirezâ€™ final extra point of the night accounted for the final points of the night.
Owenâ€™s much touted run defense lived up to its hype, holding Wilson to just 47 yards on 20 carries. The one purpose Lincolntonâ€™s running game did serve was keeping the Warhorses honest.
â€œThe last couple of games weâ€™ve been winning with the run, so we had to go to the air,â€ Wilson said. â€œThey tried to attack our quarterback (Zack). We had to put it in our hands â€” each one had to do their job and thatâ€™s how we pulled off the win.â€
An often overlooked aspect of Lincolntonâ€™s passing attack is the attention Brewer demands as a dominating tight end.
â€œDemery gets double-teamed a lot. Heâ€™s a big threat. If they want to double him, that leaves us other receivers and running backs open. That gives us a chance to make plays and we use that to our advantage,â€ Wilson said.
Gibson completed nine-of-17 for 175 yards, while having four balls dropped by receivers.
â€œWe had two balls dropped in one series. Then we hold them, three and out, and get the punt return for a touchdown,â€ Wolves head coach Scott Cloninger said. â€œShane (Faw) has done big things for us all year long. It was just another way for him to help us win.â€
Lincolntonâ€™s 12th straight home playoff win, beginning with a 1992 victory over North Iredell, sets up a meeting of the two top seeds in the west with Brevard coming to town this week.
â€œWeâ€™re a little nicked up and banged up, but I told my men, â€˜Weâ€™re 48 minutes away from playing in the state championship game,â€™â€ Cloninger said.
Senior fullback Darrell Friday seals off Kyle Chandler as sophomore C.J. Wilson looks to gain the edge Friday. Chris Dean / LTN Photo
by John Mark Brooks