Special to LTN
PUMPKIN CENTER — On its first drive Friday night, North Lincoln’s offense executed like a team with a coach who’s logged more than three decades as a head coach and offensive coordinator.
In the game’s final minutes, the Knights were opportunistic on defense while playing with a sense of urgency rarely needed in their 1-10 season a year ago.
But it was the time in between where mistakes (13 penalties, two turnovers) and inexperience proved too much to overcome for their Knights as their 41-yard field goal attempt on the game’s final play was off the mark in a 16-13 hard-fought loss to Fred T. Foard.
While the outcome was all-too-familiar for the Knights, who have won just four games in the past three seasons, there were signs of moving in the right direction.
“We didn’t play well by any stretch of the imagination,” first-year North Lincoln coach Dave Maness said. “We had way too many penalties and mistakes. But we did find some people who will fight to the end and that’s a positive. That’s something we can build on.
“I told them if you dwell on history, it has a way of repeating itself. The only thing we can do is move forward, come back Monday and try to get better.”
The Knights (0-1) need to look no further than the game’s first possession for game film on what went right. After being shut out twice and averaging 10.9 points per game in 2011, North Lincoln crammed the ball down the Tigers’ throats early. The Knights traveled 62 yards on 10 plays, including nine runs for 49 yards before quarterback Cory Blake hit Scott DeLuca for a 13-yard touchdown toss to give the Knights a 7-0 lead.
David Spinner led the Knights’ ground attack, gaining 70 yards on 10 carries. DeLuca added another 47 yards as North Lincoln totaled 198 yards on the ground.
But the Knights’ offense stalled after that first drive. On their remaining three possessions of the opening half, they managed just nine plays from scrimmage, were whistled for five penalties and turned the ball over once.
Meanwhile, the Tigers (1-0) pulled ahead with a second-quarter, eight-yard touchdown pass from Jacob Schmidt to Brenden Purkey to cut the lead to 7-6 and a 53-yard hookup from Schmidt to Jalen Thompson to open the second half that made it 14-7.
“They had two good throws and those two were the difference in the ballgame,” Maness said. “They have a way of lulling you to sleep and they caught us in man coverage and the guy who had the responsibility on the wing back was in the wrong place.”
Still, Maness’ Knights didn’t fold. North Lincoln recovered a fumble on a punt and Daniel Chase’s 3-yard plunge made it 14-13 after the extra point was blocked.
Then, a strange string of events kept North Lincoln in the game and its fans on the edges of their seats until the final horn sounded.
Fred T. Foard sandwiched a safety between three turnovers inside the North Lincoln 20 in the final 3:43, giving the Knights just enough time to make it interesting.
After taking over on its own 22-yard line with 1:50 left, Blake marched the Knights to the 19 after finding DeLuca for 21 yards with 10.3 seconds left.
Blake’s fade pass was just beyond the fingertips of tight end Jeremy Brotherton near the goal line and with 4.8 seconds left, Maness sent sophomore Bryan Seymour out to attempt a 36-yard field goal. But the Knights’ final penalty of the night — illegal substitution — may have been their costliest. Pushed back five yards, Seymour’s 41-yard attempt sailed a little to the left and short.
“We called a timeout when they had the ball down there pretty deep (late in the fourth quarter) and we went out there and jumped on them pretty hard,” Maness said. “Are we going to quit or are we going to fight? You only have two choices and it’s not real complicated.”