Everyone knew when the season began, the Lincolnton Wolves would run away with the first Southern Piedmont crown â€“ that came as no surprise.
But few, outside of the Wolvesâ€™ locker room, envisioned being just one game away from a state championship appearance.
â€œOur young people are overachievers. Iâ€™m very happy for them because they have overachieved. Itâ€™s not a surprise though,â€ Lincolnton head coach Scott Cloninger said.
A week after a convincing 28-6 victory over Owen, the Wolves face possibly their toughest test to date up against the Brevard Blue Devils (12-2).
The Wolvesâ€™ explosive offense has shown the ability to strike from anywhere on the field throughout the season.
This week they square off the stingiest defense in 2A football as the Blue Devils, who show a 4-4 defensive look, surrender just eight points per game.
Lincolnton, led by four-year signal caller Zack Gibson, has put together one of its most prolific offensive seasons in school history.
Gibson has passed for 2,657 yards and 34 touchdowns with C.J. Wilson emerging as his go-to target with 38 catches 852 yards and 15 scores.
On the ground, the Wolves have been just as productive as Wilson has racked up 1,252 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Stepping onto Von Ray Harris Field Friday night, theyâ€™ll need to do both.
â€œWe have to find a way to run the football a little bit. We have to be able to mix it up. We canâ€™t be strictly a running team or a passing team,â€ Cloninger said.
â€œThatâ€™s what weâ€™re looking for is balance,â€ he added.
Lincolnton, who mustered just 73 yards on the ground against Owen last week, was forced to go to the short passing game â€“ a decision that saved them on offense.
â€œWe did struggle running the football Friday night, but they dared us to throw the ball, and time was on our side. We were wanting the clock to run,â€ Cloninger said, alluding to the seven or eight-men the Warhorses put in the box.
Jonathan Owen leads the Blue Devils with 168 tackles from his linebacker position. Josh Brooks is second on the team with 114.
Cloninger and defensive coordinator Ledford Gibson know what theyâ€™re getting from Brevard â€“ power football out of the I-Formation.
â€œYou know itâ€™s coming. They will probably let you know whatâ€™s coming, but theyâ€™re just going to tell you to stop us if you can,â€ Cloninger said.
The Blue Devils boast two running backs with over 1,200 yards on the season: Senior Jonathan Elliot (6 feet 10 inches, 200) had 1,264 yards and junior Quentin Robinson (5 feet 10 inches, 170) had 1,234 yards with 12 touchdowns apiece entering last weekâ€™s showdown versus Maiden.
Both Elliott and Robinson will look to run behind junior offensive lineman Chad Harris (6 feet 4 inches, 310).
Lance Friday, who is the Wolvesâ€™ leading tackler with 139 to go along with five interceptions, is expected to play after spraining his ankle in the first half of the Owen game. Safety Derek Butler will also be in the lineup after being limited to just one play against the Warhorses.
Cloninger, who felt Maiden played Brevardâ€™s running game well, is impressed with what heâ€™s seen on film.
â€œTheyâ€™re big and strong and fast, and theyâ€™ve overpowered everybody theyâ€™ve played,â€ he said.
â€œOur defense has to play a great game,â€ Cloninger added.
Both Tom Brown (Maidenâ€™s head coach) and Chris Norman (Shelbyâ€™s head coach) have told Cloninger how â€œathletic the Blue Devils are.â€
When Brevard goes to the air, senior quarterback Kurt Frisbee (987 yards, 10 touchdowns and six interceptions) will look to find wide receiver Adam Conley (23 catches, 568 yards and seven touchdowns).
Wolvesâ€™ junior corner Tavares Jefferies, who is the team leader in interceptions with five, will likely draw Conley as his assignment.
Cloninger is preaching one thing this week in practice â€“ playing 48 minutes.
â€œWe have to play 48 complete minutes. Weâ€™re going to get their best shot and when they hit us with something, weâ€™re going to have to respond,â€ he said. â€œBut weâ€™re going to need to play 48 minutes,â€ he added.
by John Mark Brooks