By RYAN HERMAN
With a prominent college coach watching from the sideline and a multitude of former players watching from the stands, Lincolnton did its best to give them a show.
It didn’t turn out to be a Broadway production, but the Friday night feature did have a happy ending.
Still adjusting to the newly-implemented I-formation, the Wolves put the ball on the ground six times losing it just once, while East Gaston committed six turnovers in Lincolnton’s sloppy 27-10 win.
Chavis Russell had a game-high 77 yards rushing on 21 carries, Quinlyn Harris returned a punt 43 yards for a touchdown and Zoauntarrious Brunt had a pair of TDs as the Wolves (2-2) ended a two-game skid, and did so in front of North Carolina head football coach Larry Fedora –– who was on a recruiting visit –– and players from some of the best Lincolnton High teams from years past.
Wolves coach Scott Cloninger wanted to give those in attendance something to be proud of. Proud may not have been the correct word afterwards, but they got some much-needed momentum heading into their open date this week.
“It was ugly, but you know, we’re two weeks with a new offense,” Cloninger said. “It’s a sloppy game, but we’ll take it. It gives us something to feel good about ourself going into the open week.”
The teams combined for 12 fumbles –– East Gaston lost five while Lincolnton lost one –– and they each threw an interception.
The Wolves muffed a punt, and there were 21 total penalties for 134 yards –– 15 for 79 by the Warriors (0-3).
But in the end, Lincolnton, which opens Southern District 7 Athletic 2A Conference play at West Lincoln on Sept. 27, committed fewer mistakes and scored more points.
“That’s probably the biggest thing in our favor. (If) you sit around for two weeks and you’re 1 and 3 and you’re beating yourself in the head, it’s not going to be good,” Cloninger said.
Brunt caught an 11-yard TD pass from Jordon Easter at the 5:36 mark of the opening quarter, then Easter scored on a run from 10 yards out after East Gaston fumbled it away on the kickoff return.
The Warriors made it 14-8 a little over a minute later when they needed just three plays to go 62 yards. Austin Woods hit Bailey Crane with a 50-yard TD pass, and after the conversion the score stood until the fourth quarter.
Harris returned Crane’s punt 43 yards –– he caught it on the far sideline, ran towards his own sideline then turned upfield for the score –– to go up 20-8 just over 2 minutes into the final quarter.
Brunt ran it in from the 1 with 7:05 to play to go up 27-8.
East Gaston’s final points came on a safety when Tyshawn Smith was tackled in the end zone. The poor field position was set up when Harris picked off Alex Adams’ pass at his own 3.
The Warriors were held to 82 yards rushing, 48 coming from Dontavis Walker. Woods ran for 40 yards and was 2 of 4 passing for 60 yards and a TD before leaving with a right leg injury although he later returned. Crane had 96 yards receiving, and Adams completed 5 of 13 passes for 76 yards and added the pick.
“It didn’t look like we had last week off. Having a week off, being able to prepare and show (the team) a few things, it looked like –– I don’t know what it was,” said East Gaston coach Sean Joyce, whose team has lost five straight games dating back to last year. “This isn’t the same team that has played in the last two games.
“We’ve just got a lot of work to do.”
The same can be said for Lincolnton.
Playing without Casey Gamble, their starting center, due to an injury suffered last week, snaps were a problem for the Wolves. So were handoffs after the snaps.
A week after committing four turnovers in a 10-7 loss at North Gaston, Lincolnton fumbled on its second play from scrimmage. But it recovered, shook it off, and went 64 yards in 14 plays to score on its opening drive when Easter found Brunt for the 11-yard strike.
The Wolves capitalized on a Warriors fumble on the ensuing kickoff, recovering it at the East Gaston 34. Six plays later Easter took it in from the 10, and after back-to-back PATs by Grahm Willis the Wolves led 14-0 with 2:34 to play in the opening quarter.
East Gaston answered on its next drive, which ended with the game’s longest play from scrimmage –– a 50-yard TD pass from Woods to Crane with 1:16 left in the first quarter.
In between the Warriors’ conversion pass and Harris’ punt return, the teams combined for four fumbles, three turnovers on downs, a muffed punt, an interception and 80 yards worth of penalties.
While the mistakes weren’t all Lincolnton’s, it knows come next week it’ll have to sure up some things when it takes on the county’s only unbeaten team in West Lincoln.
“We survived, we’re 2 and 2, off week, heal up a little bit and get ready for an undefeated West Lincoln team,” said Cloninger, who won his 125th game as Lincolnton’s head coach. “I’m just happy we got the win, we can smile a little bit and wake up in the morning and smile instead of whine and hang our head.”
Notes: Second-year Tar Heels head coach Larry Fedora attended the second half of Friday’s game to watch recruit Darian Roseboro. Fedora arrived via helicopter after spending the first half watching a recruit at Belmont South Point. His chopper landed on the school’s soccer field, and he received a police escort to the stadium. One of Fedora’s assistants watched the entire game from the Wolves sideline. … The school honored former players during a special pregame ceremony. It also unveiled a monument located below the scoreboard dedicated to legendary Wolves coach Von Ray Harris, whose teams went 187-96-8 during a 31-year span from 1956-86. Harris is the school’s all-time winningest coach. … Cloninger is 125-60 since taking over the program in 2000.