MAIDEN –– After three straight less-than-eye-popping performances, Maiden found its mojo. And after four straight top-of-the-line efforts, Lincolnton coach Scott Cloninger was at a loss for words.
Jake McRee threw a touchdown pass to four different receivers and the Blue Devils broke free in the second half to rout Lincolnton 42-14 on Friday and finish second in the Southern District 7 Athletic 2A Conference.
McRee connected on 9 of his 16 pass attempts for 170 yards and an interception. He threw for three TDs in a break-out second half in which Maiden (10-1, 6-1) broke free of a 7-all tie at the half.
The Blue Devils and McRee went off in the final 24 minutes. The Wolves went missing.
“I’ve been coaching 34 years. That’s the first time I’ve seen that in Lincolnton,” Cloninger said. “I’m upset. I’m disappointed. But they’re better than us. If we play them again they’ll beat us just as bad because they want it more than us. And until we want it it ain’t gonna happen.”
The setback came after Lincolnton (7-4, 5-2) had its best four-game stretch of the season, bettering itself just about every week in yards and points gained, and yards and points allowed.
The stretch allowed the Wolves to play their way into a winner-take-second contest after Maiden was manhandled at league champion East Lincoln on Nov. 1.
The Blue Devils got it together, and Lincolnton didn’t.
Its 197 rush yards were its fewest since gaining 167 against East Lincoln on Oct. 4. And that was against the league’s best defense at stopping the run.
Friday’s performance came against the SD-7’s fourth-worst defense at stopping ball carriers.
“There’s no fire. I know they said Maiden was down last week against East Lincoln and they just didn’t have no momentum. Well, the same thing happened to us this week –– the shoe’s on that other foot,” Cloninger said.
“We’re a running football team and we didn’t –– no we couldn’t –– run the football.”
Seven days after being shut out 42-0 at league champion East Lincoln, the win not only gave the Blue Devils a second place finish in the SD-7, but it also gave them a home game to open the state playoffs on Friday.
It was also win No. 500 for the storied program.
“We were kind of able to get a little bit of our magic back there in the second half,” Maiden coach Frank Snider said. “Particularly offensively, we needed to get a little bit of our feeling back and I thought we did that in the second half which is really good going into the playoffs.”
Maiden and McRee opened the third quarter with a 13-yard TD pass to Matt Fowler that made it 14-7, then the Blue Devils went up two scores when McRee hit Ricky Taylor from 19 yards out with 4:09 left in the third.
Zoauntarrious Brunt made it a game again when he returned McRee’s first and only interception for 65 yards to make it 21-14 with 10:48 to play. The Wolves didn’t score again.
Less than a minute later McRee connected with Justus Woods on a 27-yard TD pass. Inside of 3 minutes left Brunt fumbled, and Maiden turned it into a score on T.J. Vick’s 52-yard run with 2:19 left.
Neither Quinlyn Harris nor Brunt could handle the ensuing kickoff, and Maiden recovered at the Lincolnton 26. Two plays later Tony Hernandez scored from the 23 with 1:26 left to give the Blue Devils their largest win since beating St. Stephens 63-0 in Week 3.
Maiden, which had just 18 yards rushing at the half, finished with 171 on the ground –– its second-most of the season (186 against St. Stephens). Vick had 100 of those yards, all but 5 in the second half.
The Blue Devils, a pass-first team all year, were successful at using the run to set up McRee’s three scores in the final 24 minutes.
“We really needed to run the football. I thought we came out and did that in the second half,” Snider said. “And being able to run it, of course opened up the pass to make a couple big plays.”
Maiden’s defense, fifth in the league against the run going in, held Lincolnton to 72 rushing yards in the second half and its lowest rushing total in six games.
“Our people up front played exceptionally well,” Snider said.
Woods had 108 receiving yards on four catches, including a sure-scoring pass that went for 61 yards in the first quarter but was fumbled at the Lincolnton 20 after he was chased down by Brunt.
Chavis Russell led Lincolnton with 72 yards rushing, and Justice Charles added 65. But Maiden sacked quarterback Jordon Easter five times –– and had 10 total tackles for loss –– to hold the Wolves at bay.
“We didn’t come to play, and that’s my fault,” said Cloninger, whose team had its seven-game win streak against the Blue Devils snapped. “They practiced exactly the way they played tonight. They weren’t in the right positions, they got outhit, they got outhustled. I’ll take all the blame. I’m the head coach so it’s my fault.”
Vick added a 17-yard TD reception for the game’s first score, and Lincolnton’s Darian Roseboro tied it with a 1-yard run to start the second quarter.
The rest was all Maiden.
“This is certainly a confidence builder for our whole team,” Snider said. “They were able to move the football against a good football team.”
Up next for the Wolves is a state playoff game on the road at Thomasville on Friday. A win last week would have given them home field advantage for at least one week. Now they’ll have to win on someone else’s field to keep playing –– if they learn from what happened at Maiden.
“We stunk it up. I’m embarrassed for the Lincolnton community, the way we played,” Cloninger said. “Maiden is a good ball team and they’re going to make a lot of noise in the playoffs, and we’ll probably make an early exit if we play like we did tonight.”