By BRUCE WEHRLE
Special to the LTN
THOMASVILLE –– Lincolnton did a real Hatchett job on Thomasville in the first round of the NCHSAA state 2A playoffs Friday night at Cushwa Memorial Stadium.
Nick Hatchett, that is.
With just over two minutes left to play in a tie game, Hatchett found himself wide open in the Thomasville secondary while running a skinny post pattern inside the right hashes. He hauled down quarterback Jordon Easter’s carefully thrown pass and charged into the end zone for a stunning 36-yard TD reception that boosted the Wolves to a hardscrabble 14-7 victory over the Bulldogs.
Ninth-seeded Lincolnton (8-4) will travel to top-seeded Winston-Salem Carver, a 53-14 winner over Lake Norman Charter, for a second round game this week.
“We worked on this play during the week,” Lincolnton coach Scott Cloninger said. “We thought it might work. We just sent a man in motion and they jumped on him, so the tight end was wide open. And that was a huge play for us. Time was running low. That was a great win for us.
“Anytime you come over here and play an Allen Brown-coached team, you know they’re going to play great defense,” said Cloninger. “That’s what we expected.”
The loss was frustrating for the Bulldogs, who ended their season at 5-7 overall.
“It’s just a tough way to end the season,” said Thomasville offensive coordinator Dick Cline. “(Lincolnton) motioned a guy out of the backfield, so evidently there had to be some kind of confusion on our part. We really can’t tell until we see the film, but obviously, somebody covered the wrong guy.”
It was about the only mistake the defense made in an otherwise superb effort.
The Wolves took their opening possession and marched 63 yards in 11 plays out of the read option with Easter capping the drive with a 1-yard run.
But after that, the game settled into an in-the-trenches defensive struggle with neither team finding much of an advantage.
By halftime, the Wolves were still up 7-0.
Thomasville finally caught a break early in the third period when Lincolnton’s Quinlyn Harris fumbled a punt at his own 17, which was quickly recovered by the Bulldogs’ Malik Johnson. Four plays later, Demoris Payne rambled in on a 4-yard TD run to knot the game at 7-7.
After forcing Lincolnton to punt, Thomasville began to march from its own 43 and moved the ball steadily down the field, ultimately facing a third down at the Wolves 5. But then disaster struck as Payne fumbled the ball inside the 5 with Lincolnton’s Harris recovering on the play early in the fourth period.
Both teams traded possessions, then Lincolnton began a drive from its own 47. The Wolves matched to the Thomasville 21, then suffered a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty that could have robbed the team of any momentum it was building.
Instead, the Wolves came up with an incredible game-winning play to Hatchett.
Thomasville still had two minutes to respond, but the Bulldogs saw four pass attempts fall incomplete as their season came to an end.
Lincolnton took a 3-2 edge in its meetings with Thomasville, all in the playoffs. Easter finished with 80 yards rushing on 22 attempts.