Special to LTN
LINCOLNTON — When the season started, Jordon Easter wasn’t a part of Lincolnton’s offensive game plan. After all, he was quarterbacking the Wolves’ junior varsity squad.
But forced into action — and promoted to the varsity team — the freshman answered the call, took his lumps and Friday night against Cherryville, his progression from wide-eyed rookie in late August to efficient leader and playmaker was in full view.
Easter ran for 112 yards and a touchdown and threw for another 111 yards and his first scoring pass of the season as the Wolves got back on the winning track with a dominating 36-7 victory.
“It felt pretty good,” Easter said of the win. “Everybody was talking about how we weren’t going to be good this season, but it’s a rebuilding year. You have to work and be patient with the team and the coaches.”
Lincolnton improved to 3-5 overall and 2-2 in Southern Piedmont Conference play.
Both teams entered Friday’s matchup with offenses that relied on time-consuming, ground-control attacks. Because of that, the teams were limited to just three first-half possessions apiece and the Wolves made the most of theirs.
After forcing the Ironmen (3-5, 2-2) to punt on the opening drive of the game, Lincolnton drove 53 yards in 10 plays, culminating with Easter’s quick out to D.J. Cunningham, who turned and outraced several Cherryville defenders to the end zone for Easter’s first career TD toss and a 7-0 lead.
Cherryville put together its best drive of the game on the ensuing possession, driving to the Lincolnton 12. But on fourth-and-2, Lincolnton defenders Justice Charles, Darian Roseboro and Tyron Roberts drove Spencer Stamey back for a three-yard loss to halt the 15-play drive.
Easter then capped off a nine-play, 85-yard drive with a 37-yard touchdown run with 7:12 left in the half to put the Wolves ahead, 14-0.
“I started up the middle, cut back left and saw some daylight,” Easter said of the run.
In the third quarter, things got worse for the Ironmen. Their first possession lost 10 yards, forcing them to punt from their own 3 and a 13-yard punt gave the Wolves the ball at the 16. Two plays later, Chavis Russell scored from 12 yards and the two-point conversion was successful, giving the Wolves a 22-0 advantage.
Then, Charles recovered a Cherryville fumble on the 9 after a botched option pitch and Roseboro’s 6-yard run stretched the lead to 29-0.
Willie Cobb’s 3-yard touchdown run made it 36-0 in the fourth quarter and the Ironmen scored with less than four minutes to play against mostly backups.
“I thought our defensive coaches had a pretty good game plan,” Lincolnton head coach Scott Cloninger said. “Our defensive front, our linebackers and secondary all stepped up and played a good game. That’s what we needed after that heartbreaker (13-8 loss at East Lincoln) last week.”
The Wolves gained 208 yards on the ground and Easter was a perfect 7-for-7 passing. Cloninger said his freshman quarterback is starting figure things out after being thrown into the fire early in the season against the likes of larger schools, Shelby and Forestview.
“It goes back to the offensive line doing a better job blocking and giving him good things to read,” Cloninger said. “One of the keys was that we wanted to throw the ball a little bit more and he threw the ball better tonight and that was one of the things that helped us. That’s going to open up some running lanes for us.
“We haven’t had anything like that. If we can throw the ball for over 100 yards, I’m very happy.”
With its second conference win in hand, Lincolnton faces a crucial stretch starting Friday at home against Bessemer City, then traveling to North Lincoln and wrapping up the regular season against West Lincoln.
“We still need to win some ballgames to qualify for the playoffs and this is one of those that we needed to have a chance to make the playoffs,” Cloninger said.