By Phillip Gardner
Special to the LTN
DALLAS — Christian Stewart’s foot struck the ball on a 36-yard field goal attempt with time running out, and what happened next might be hard to believe.
“To be honest, whenever I kicked it, I kind of closed my eyes,” the North Gaston sophomore said. “I was pretty scared. I’m not going to lie.”
Stewart opened his eyes in time to see the ball split the uprights with 7.1 seconds remaining, giving the Wildcats a dramatic 10-7 home win against Lincolnton Friday at Trudnak Stadium.
North Gaston contained Lincolnton’s ensuing kickoff return and the Wildcats began celebrating their third straight victory to start the season. North Gaston improved to 3-0 for the eighth time in school history and first since A.J. Blue and Princeton Brooks led the Wildcats to the 2007 state title game.
“The kids’ slogan that they’ve come up with is ‘Rise up’ and that’s what they’re doing late in the game,” North Gaston coach Mike Patton said.
That’s what happened last week as North Gaston scored twice in the final 1:18 to beat East Rutherford 43-42. A week later, North Gaston put together a late drive after Lincolnton tied it at 7 with 3:35 remaining. The Wildcats covered 56 yards in 12 plays and converted three first downs on the decisive drive to set up Stewart.
Stewart, the brother of Appalachian State kicker Drew Stewart, had to deal with a few jitters as Lincolnton called timeout in attempt to ice him.
“They were trying to mess with me there, but I was confident,” said Stewart, in his first high school season after playing exclusively soccer as a freshman. “We’ve got a good team and we put it through.”
North Gaston managed to win on a night it managed only 179 yards of offense while yielding 279. But turnovers turned out to be the equalizer as North Gaston won that battle 4-0. Lincolnton lost three fumbles –– Allen Cisco recovered all of them –– and tossed one interception.
“That’s football,” Lincolnton coach Scott Cloninger said. “If you turn the ball over, you’re going to lose games and that’s what we did.”
After a scoreless tie at halftime, Josh Kahlig scored on a 1-yard run to put North Gaston on the board with 4:01 left in the third. Lincolnton tied it on a 17-play, 54-yard drive capped by a 1-yard TD run by Darian Roseboro with 3:35 left in the fourth.
That set up the winning drive for North Gaston, which will have a chance to enter conference play undefeated if it can beat 0-3 Cherryville on the road next week. Lincolnton (1-2) will host East Gaston next week.
The first half was a stalemate but Lincolnton dominated the statistics. The Wolves outgained North Gaston 206-45 by the break and generated eight first downs while holding North Gaston to one.
Lincolnton’s biggest problem in the first half was aforementioned turnovers. Back-to-back drives in the second quarter ended on fumbles. The Wolves mounted their biggest threat just before halftime, reaching the North Gaston 30 before Alex Patton intercepted Jordon Easter’s pass inside the 10 with 12.1 seconds before the break.
Kahlig’s 61 rushing yards led North Gaston. Quarterback Nick Haskin rushed for 51 yards, Ra’Quan Brown added 32 yards and Brandon Stowe gained 31 in North Gaston’s rushing attack.
For Lincolnton, Chavis Russell rushed for 90 yards, Easter passed for 104 yards and rushed for 29, and Quinlyn Harris caught seven passes for 94 yards.