By RYAN HERMAN
Since opening its doors North Lincoln has defeated Lincolnton only once in football, but don’t tell either team that.
Tonight is the only game that matters.
The Knights and Wolves open their seasons at 7:30 at Lincolnton with the Wolves having won seven of the eight meetings between the two county schools. But what happened from 2005 to last season is the last thing on either team’s minds.
“I just approached it and told them that it’s a new season and everybody’s zero and zero, and you never know how good a team will be until the end of the year,” Lincolnton coach Scott Cloninger said. “The past is just a thing of the past. You’ve got to meet the challenge of each year’s a new team.”
North Lincoln, which has just seven total wins in the last three seasons, is definitely a new team this year.
Not only has second-year coach David Maness proclaimed it, but so is Cloninger.
Lincolnton’s coach since 2000 isn’t taking the Knights lightly.
“Looking at the North Lincoln crowd I’m real impressed with them, from what I saw in a scrimmage. They’re a big, strong team,” Cloninger said. “It’s going to be a true test for us.”
The true test will be how each team responds following disappointing years.
Maness said he feels his team should have won “five games” last season.
In the Knights’ 17-7 loss to Lincolnton last season, turnovers allowed the Wolves to jump out to an early 10-0 lead seven minutes into the contest.
North Lincoln’s Richard Jackson –– its top returning rusher this season –– scored on a 7-yard run in the second quarter, and the score held until Darian Roseboro punched it in from the 2 in the fourth quarter.
Now that his team is a year older and has been in his system for a year, Maness expects it to come out on top in those close games.
“We have a daily goal –– we want to get better every day. We want to feel like we’re competitive in every game. We want to take it down to the fourth quarter,” he said.
For Cloninger, who has said his team’s seven-win season last year is not the norm for his program, feels his team isn’t quite up to par on where he feels it should be going into its season opener.
“It’s a typical early-season game for us,” he said. “We’re not where we want to be.”
EAST LINCOLN at EAST GASTON
The Mustangs open defense of their NCHSAA state 2A championship tonight in Mount Holly against a team that won only two games in 2012.
The Warriors went 2-8 last season and finished fifth in the MEGA 7 3A/4A Conference. But historically, they’ve given East Lincoln fits.
East Gaston and the Mustangs have split their series 5-5 in the last 10 seasons, with East Lincoln defeating its one-time conference foe 54-30 in Week 4 last year.
The Mustangs lost nearly all of their key players from an offense that averaged 40.8 points and 401.8 yards per game last season. The Warriors return nine starters from an offense that averaged 23.3 points and 306.4 yards per game in 2012, according to the Gaston Gazette.
VALDESE DRAUGHN at WEST LINCOLN
The Rebels open 2013 with a potent rushing attack against a team that somewhat struggled against the run last season.
West Lincoln led the old Southern Piedmont 1A/2A Conference in rushing at 272.2 yards per game. The Wildcats finished sixth in the eight-team Catawba Valley Athletic 2A Conference by allowing 195.8 yards per game on the ground, according to the Hickory Daily Record.
Draughn, which went 5-7 last season, was sixth in total defense at 284.6 yards allowed per game. It was last in the CVAC in passing, but finished third in rushing with 225.7 yards per game.
The Rebels, who are on a streak of making the playoffs three years running, finished fifth in total defense at 299.5 yards allowed per game.
The schools have never met in football. Draughn played its first varsity football schedule in 2009.