NL football looks for fast start in ’14
PUMPKIN CENTER –– When the season kicks off on Friday North Lincoln has but one objective: To start the season hot right out of the gate.
The Knights host county rival Lincolnton at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the season opener for both teams, and do so looking for revenge after last season’s near-upset while treating the Wolves as any other opponent in their quest get through non-conference play with an above-.500 record.
North Lincoln had a chance to beat Lincolnton last season for the first time since 2006. But failed opportunities and a missed PAT with 9 seconds left turned into a snowball, and it went 1-3 in non-conference play before East Lincoln was forced to forfeit its win over the Knights.
“We’ve got to get off to a good start. That’s critical in our first four games,” third-year Knights coach David Maness said. “We open up at home, and that’s a positive, and the kids are ready to play. We’ve got to get some wins early in the season because we’ve got some (tough) teams down the road.”
The missed extra point could have forced overtime had it gone through, but North Lincoln had first-and-goal from the 1 in the second quarter and failed to come away with any points after then-junior quarterback Chase Caldwell had his pass intercepted in the end zone.
In the fourth quarter then-junior Richard Jackson returned a kickoff 85 yards for a score, but had it called back on an unsportsmanlike penalty.
Maness said he hasn’t put any added emphasis on beating Lincolnton because of who it is, but he has referred to last season’s game to correct mistakes.
“That’s something that we’ve talked about a little bit around here,” he said.
After hosting the Wolves, North Lincoln travels to West Lincoln then hosts East Lincoln before wrapping up its non-conference schedule at home against Bessemer City on Sept. 19.
The Knights’ open date is during Week 3 on Sept. 12. And play in the ever-tough North Piedmont 3A/4A Conference begins Sept. 26 at South Iredell.
“We’re in a very brutal conference,” Maness said, “so winning these first few games is important for us.”
The good thing going into Friday’s opener is North Lincoln’s healthy. It ended last season banged up, so much so that it was forced to use 19 different ball carriers in its running game throughout the course of the year.
The last time the Knights reached the postseason was 2008. It’s going to take a roster full of healthy players to snap the skid.
“We have to stay healthy,” Maness said. “I thought we competed (last season). We didn’t finish well sometimes, but we competed. We’ve got to be able to make it through the season without any critical injuries.”
North Lincoln won its final game of the season, 48-14 against West Iredell, which was its highest scoring output since a 50-0 win over Forbush in Week 4 of the 2008 season.
It lost the two games before it –– 42-20 at Statesville and 34-14 against Lake Norman –– but the Knights trailed both teams by seven points at the break.
Getting stronger and having the stamina to play a full 48 minutes has been a priority, so they have invested in their weight room.
Maness said the school has added onto the room in terms of size and equipment, and sees the investment paying off in the near future, more specifically in 2014.
“We did play well at the end of the year. That’s a positive,” he said. “We’re making some progress in the program. Those things will make you better over time.”