Once again Lincolnton has its hands full in the state playoffs. But so far that hasn’t been a problem.
The ninth-seeded Wolves (9-4) travel to No 4 Reidsville (11-2) tonight for a NCHSAA state 2A third round game.
It’s the third straight road playoff game for the Wolves –– a first in program history –– and the third straight week they’ve been considered the underdogs.
So far that hasn’t mattered.
“They don’t see it,” Lincolnton coach Scott Cloninger said. “They only see who we’re playing.”
Lincolnton pulled off one of the biggest upsets this postseason when it knocked off top-seeded Winston-Salem Carver 28-27 last week. Tonight it gets the chance to do it again.
The Wolves are facing a team that has had its footprint embedded on North Carolina high school football since the presidency of Herbert Hoover. Reidsville has 18 NCHSAA state championships since 1930, and this year the Rams are still giving teams fits.
During the regular season they averaged 404.8 yards and 37.4 points per game. Their two losses came to a pair of teams in Northern Guilford and Northwest Guilford who have a combined two losses on the field between them (Northern Guilford does have two forfeits, one to Northwestern Guilford).
Reidsville’s offense begins with quarterback Devonte Williams. A dual-threat, Williams rushed for 1,118 yards and 17 touchdowns and threw for 1,213 yards and eight TDs during the regular season, according to statistics at Reidsvillefootball.com.
In Cloninger’s eyes Williams is so talented that Cloninger compared him to former Appalachian State quarterback and record-setter Armanti Edwards.
“He’s a great quarterback. He’s the one that makes them go,” Cloninger said. “He wants to run the football, he throws the ball well. He’s the one that makes that team go, and that’s what they want to do. They want to put the ball in his hands.”
Cloninger said the Rams like to run a lot of misdirection plays and keep defenses on their toes.
“It’s a very difficult team to plan for,” he said.
And so is Lincolnton.
The Wolves went into their bag of tricks in the second half of last week’s game, and put the ball into the hands of Division I defensive recruit Darian Roseboro.
Roseboro, a highly-touted junior defensive end with more than a dozen D-I offers, carried 11 times for 45 yards in the fourth quarter, including a 1-yard TD run that tied it at 21 with 9:17 to play.
The plan was effective in short bursts against the Yellow Jackets, but isn’t something Lincolnton can depend on long term.
“We just ran it right at them, got a break here and there,” Cloninger said. “If you get into that set early and you can’t do anything with it, what will you fall back on?”
Lincolnton finished the regular season sixth in the Southern District 7 Athletic 2A Conference in total offense and defense, but since a 42-14 loss at Maiden in the regular season finale the Wolves’ defense has been lights out.
They gave up just 135 total yards to Thomasville in the first round, then held high-flying Carver to 259 total yards last week.
Going into yet another tough environment against an equally tough opponent, Lincolnton is prepared for the Rams’ best shot.
“They’re very happy, I know that. We’re trying to preach to them to not be satisfied. This is such an important game. They don’t realize they’re 96 (game) minutes from playing for a state championship. Their high school classes are only 90 minutes. Forty-eight (minutes) this week, and if you win, 48 the next week. And that’s what we’re preaching about,” Cloninger said. “Are they confident? I feel like they feel good about themselves. They’re not overconfident, so that’s a good thing.”
The Wolves’ 3-3 start to the season seems like an afterthought considering what they’ve accomplished since. Had it not been for a change in offensive scheme, Cloninger doubts his team would still be playing.
After losing two of its first three games Lincolnton went from an option-based offense to the I-formation. And it’s worked like a charm.
“Pleasantly surprised. Am I shocked? No. I thought we had the talent,” Cloninger said when asked if he’s surprised his team is still alive. “Do I think we’d be where we are today in the double-wing option? No, I do not. Our defensive coaches and our offensive coaches have done a good job of making changes as the season progresses, and I think our players have also listened and learned and have done a good job of changing what we had to change to win and they have. They’ve bought in.”