Special to LTN
LINCOLNTON — Lincolnton coach Scott Cloninger knows better days are ahead for his Wolves.
He just hopes that after Friday night’s 42-7 loss at home to Shelby, his team realizes it, too.
“What I’m praying for is that our young people don’t get down on themselves,” Cloninger said after the Wolves suffered their third consecutive loss after opening the season with a win against Maiden. “When you get beat like we did tonight and then with the loss we had last week (30-28 to Lake Norman Charter), things can snowball on you. I’m hoping they’ll understand they need to take baby steps and try to get a little bit better.”
Entering the season, Cloninger knew it would be an uphill climb after losing more than two dozen players from last year’s 2A state runner-up team. He’s tried two quarterbacks — sophomore Chavis Russell who injured his ankle and junior Ketawn Ingram — before handing the reins over to freshman Jordon Easter. Countless other positions are being filled with first-time starters with little experience and it showed early against Shelby.
Buck Ussery took the opening kickoff 76 yards for a score and the Golden Lions (1-3) tacked on two more touchdowns to go ahead 21-0 with more than five minutes remaining in the opening quarter.
“They run it back all the way and we knew we had to be careful and he didn’t even kick it to one of their deep players,” Cloninger said of the ominous start. “He kicked it to the second line and that cat takes it back. We’re a little slow this year and we know that and it’s affecting us on the field.”
But as bad an opening quarter it was for Lincolnton, there were reasons for optimism in the second. All three of Shelby’s possessions ended in interceptions — two by Ingram and another by Francisco Gutierrez.
And the offense turned it around, too. After turning the ball over on downs at the Shelby 17-yard line at the end of the first quarter and punting on its first possession of the second, Lincolnton took over at its own 27-yard line after Gutierrez’s interception. The Wolves reached the Shelby 29-yard line with a mix of Easter and Darian Roseboro on the ground, but the drive stalled after 20 yards in penalties backed the Wolves to near midfield.
Shelby opened the second half with an onside kick, but Lincolnton forced the Golden Lions to punt. But two straight three-and-outs for the Wolves led to two Raekwon Washington touchdown runs as the Lions pulled ahead 35-0 entering the final quarter.
“I thought we played well in the second quarter,” Cloninger said. “I thought we played well enough to make it not a blowout and then they kick the onside kick to start the second half and it hit our guy in the stomach, one of our other guys jumped on it and it squirts out. It’s just one of those things. As a young team we’re not catching breaks, but Shelby is a superior team and (head coach) Lance (Ware) and them are doing a good job. We’re just working to get better and we will.”
Lincolnton put together a 10-play, 62-yard drive to get on the scoreboard with 1:45 remaining in the game. Easter, who ran for 16 yards on the drive and passed for 25 yards, scored from the 2.
“We’re so young. I looked out there one time and we had a freshman quarterback, freshman fullback, sophomore at wing, freshman wing,” Cloninger explained. “Then defense, there’s one player—one player—that played on varsity last season playing defense.”
The Wolves travel to 3A Forestview on Friday before getting into the heart of their Southern Piedmont schedule with a home game vs. Highland Tech on Sept. 21, followed by a trip to East Lincoln and home dates against Cherryville and Bessemer City.