By RYAN HERMAN
MAIDEN –– The first 20 minutes looked as if East Lincoln’s offense couldn’t be stopped. The second 20 minutes saw the Mustangs depend on their defense.
When the horn sounded, they were still undefeated and one win closer to another conference championship and perfect season.
Chris Cox threw for 129 yards and two touchdowns as East Lincoln held off another undefeated junior varsity football team in Maiden late Thursday for an 18-12 win that clinched at least a share of the Southern District 7 Athletic 2A Conference title.
Cox added 80 yards rushing on a night when an 18-0 halftime lead wasn’t as comfortable as it seemed at the time.
“It’s been really cool. Last year we went undefeated also, so tonight was a big night,” the sophomore quarterback said. “That was a tough game to go through, and hopefully we can win next week and go undefeated again.”
The Mustangs (9-0, 6-0) seemed as if they could do no wrong in the first half while the Blue Devils (8-1, 5-1) looked as if they could do nothing right.
Cox completed 5 of 7 passes for 111 yards before halftime, and as a team East Lincoln had 201 total yards to Maiden’s 32. The Blue Devils also lost two fumbles.
But things turned in the second half.
The Mustangs didn’t score again, and gained just 49 more yards while Maiden came two yards shy of potentially forcing overtime.
Quarterback Caleb Farley scored on a 52-yard run nearly 4 minutes into the second half for the Blue Devils’ first score, and two drives later they made it 18-12 when Xzavion Huff hit Ty Williams for a 73-yard TD on a halfback pass.
Two East Lincoln plays later Sammie Cunningham was stripped after having the first down, but Nate Cureton made up for it with a pick of Farley’s pass on second-and-39.
Maiden forced East Lincoln to punt, then went 11 plays in less than 2 minutes to set up fourth-and-2 at the Mustangs 16.
Huff took the handoff, darted right, and was stopped for a 2-yard loss.
With no timeouts left in the Blue Devils’ pocket, Cox took a pair of knees and assured his team of nothing less than a share of the league crown with one game left to play.
“Our defense really came through at the end,” said Cox, who finished 7 of 14 –– 2-for-7 in the second half. “I’m glad the defense pulled through.”
East Lincoln had four possessions in the first half, three that resulted in scores.
Darren Martin scored on a 1-yard run to end a 12-play, 64-yard drive with 3 minutes left in the first quarter. The Mustangs went three-and-out on their next drive, then Cox connected with Cameron Dollar on a pair of passes that equaled 40 yards, the last a 21-yard score with 1:41 to play in the half.
East Lincoln turned Maiden’s second fumble of the half into a score when Cox again found Dollar for a 25-yard TD inside of a minute to play.
Neither team had a successful conversion. Dollar had three catches for 75 yards, and Maiden finished with 225 total yards –– 132 through the air.
“The first half our offense was really going and our receivers, we were on the same page,” Cox said. “The second half we just kind of lost it. We just got out of the zone.”
The Mustangs wrap up the season at home next week against West Lincoln. If they win, the conference title is theirs for the second straight year. If they lose and Maiden knocks off Lincolnton, then the two teams will share the championship.
East Lincoln doesn’t plan on sharing anything.
“We’ve just got to practice hard, like we do week-in and week-out,” Cox said. “West Lincoln, they’re a good team, I’ve heard. We’ve just got to go at it.”