The scene was reminiscent of the last two times the Lincolnton Wolves advanced to the state championship game.
Players jumped up and down, yelled, â€˜We going to the ship,â€™ and hugged family and friends over the fence after a 29-26 victory over Brevard in the Western Regional Championship Friday night at Lincolnton Memorial Stadium.
Trailing 26-22 with 2:55 left, the Wolvesâ€™ dreams of a state championship were for all intents and purposes shattered. At least, thatâ€™s how things seemed, as Brevard dominated the second half.
Record-breaking quarterback Zack Gibson took the snap from center, wheeled and quickly found phenom sophomore running back C.J. Wilson at his own 24-yard line. Wilson did the rest, defying logic and inspiring the imagination with a breathtaking 76-yard touchdown down the home sideline.
Upon catching the ball, a Brevard defender had Wilson in his clutches. Wilson stiff armed, Shane Faw threw a pivotal block, Wilson put his hand on the ground did a spin move, got another block from Faw and he was gone.
â€œWhen I caught it, the first thing on my mind was touchdown. I put my hand down and stayed on my feet. He let me go and I knew that was a mistake,â€ Wilson said. â€œI saw the open field and I just did what I do â€” ran fast and got away from the people that were chasing me,â€ he added, of the play that will forever stay etched in the minds of all Lincolnton fans.
All that stood in the Wolvesâ€™ way of a return trip to Chapel Hill was one defensive stop and 2:33. They responded.
On the second play of the Blue Devilsâ€™ final drive, Kurt Frisbee connected with Adam Conley for a 39-yard pass completion. Two straight runs and an incomplete pass set up a fourth and six from Lincolntonâ€™s 35-yard line.
Fittingly, defensive leader Lance Friday delivered the defensive play of the game, knocking down the Frisbee pass, giving the ball back to Gibson and company.
â€œWe were in a zone coverage and I just dropped back and tried to read the quarterback. I knew he was going to throw it short. I put my hands up to try to intercept it,â€ Friday said. â€œI didnâ€™t intercept it. I just tipped it, but thatâ€™s good enough for me.â€
Lincolntonâ€™s offense, and more pointedly, Wilson, did the rest, picking up a first down on fourth and five from their own 40 yard line. The play allowed them to run out the clock and made them Western Regional champions.
â€œI couldnâ€™t ask for more out of the team I have. Theyâ€™re a great team. When we were down, we donâ€™t let anything get ahead of us, we keep our head up and do our best to pull out a win for the team,â€ an ecstatic Wilson said after the hard-fought victory.
The Wolves took a 22-6 lead into the half, only to see Brevard respond with 20 unanswered points before the clinching score.
With 4:05 remaining in the third quarter, the Blue Devilsâ€™ Frisbee hit his go-to receiver Conley for a perfectly-thrown 31-yard touchdown, whittling the lead to 22-10.
Two Lincolnton possessions later, 6-foot-4-inch defensive tackle Chad Harris plucked a pressured Gibson throw out of the air and demonstrated surprising speed for an 18-yard touchdown, cutting the advantage to 22-19.
On Brevardâ€™s second possession of the final quarter, Jonathan Elliot punched it in from four yards out to give the Blue Devils their first lead of the contest, 26-22 with 2:55 left.
A happy, but more so relieved, Wolvesâ€™ head coach Scott Cloninger was impressed by the heart Brevard showed, but he was not surprised.
â€œThe films I saw, they drove down the field and beat Shelby with two minutes to go. They drive down the field against Maiden at the end of the game and beat Maiden, so I knew they were going to play and give us their best effort at the end of the game and they did,â€ Cloninger said. â€œThe close games they won, I bet you they did on the last drive of the game.â€
Cloninger felt the Blue Devils outplayed them the whole second half until Wilsonâ€™s mind-boggling play.
â€œThird quarter they just outplayed us. They were killing us. Fourth quarter they had control of the game,â€ he said.
â€œI really think we shouldâ€™ve been up more than we were at halftime but Iâ€™m just glad we were able to hit the bubble screen at the end of the game and hit a big home run.â€
Wilson paced Lincolnton with 103 rushing yards and also led his team with 104 yards receiving. Demery Brewer neared the 100-yard mark with 93 yards on two receptions.
Elliot had a game-high 128 yards on 22 carries for the Blue Devils.
Brevardâ€™s Adam Conley, the teamâ€™s leading receiver on the season, had three catches for 89 yards.
Frisbee was seven-for-27 passing for 125 yards, while Gibson overcame two interceptions to finish with 237 yards passing on eight-of-18 accuracy.
by John Mark Brooks