By RYAN HERMAN
Scott Cloninger called Lincolnton’s performance last week at Maiden the worst he’d seen in his 34 years on its sidelines. Twins Tanner and Tate Cantrell said the Wolves didn’t show up ready to play.
They’re ready tonight.
The Cantrell brothers, a pair of senior linebackers who know what it takes to win, are hoping to rid their mounts of the sour taste left over from the Wolves’ regular season finale in which they were embarrassed 42-14 by the Blue Devils last week. They head to Thomasville tonight to open the NCHSAA state 2A playoffs with the mindset of returning to the state championship, something they did as sophomores.
And getting revenge on the team that ended their season as juniors.
“It makes me want to make every play, lift the team up and do what we can,” Tate said. “It’s our senior year. We want to go out with a bang.”
With a shot at second place on the line and a home playoff game, Lincolnton (7-4) had its four-game winning streak snapped and a seven-game win streak ended against Maiden.
The Cantrells had never lost to the Blue Devils until Friday. But that is as in the past as Lincolnton’s last appearance in a state championship game.
“We just didn’t come ready to play,” Tate said. “We thought they were going to hand it to us. They came out ready to play. They wanted to win. They wanted it more than we did.
“It was a letdown.”
“It feels like a new season going into the playoffs,” Tanner said.
And it is.
Lincolnton has to put behind it a second half at Maiden in which it gained just 72 yards rushing and was held without an offensive TD. It also has to put behind it a 55-14 loss at Thomasville in the second round last season –– its biggest playoff deficit since being shutout 42-0 at Hendersonville in 1976.
That is where the leadership of Tate and Tanner Cantrell comes into play.
“If one of the leaders puts their head down, then so does everybody else,” Tate said. “That’s why you’ve got to stay pumped up, and move on to the next play.”
Cloninger, who’s been the head coach at Lincolnton since 2000, sees those leadership qualities in his twin seniors.
“They’re great kids and great players, and they’re a couple of seniors who know what it takes to be successful,” Cloninger said.
For the Cantrells, anything short of another shot at winning a state title is a failure.
Getting there requires the Wolves to play as a unit, something they say didn’t happen in their last game.
“You’ve just got to work together,” Tanner said. “This is a team. Everybody is one.”