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FOOTBALL — County matchup highlights Week 1

Injured Lincolnton visits North Lincoln

RYAN HERMAN
Sports Editor

Lincolnton is banged up. North Lincoln is pumped up.
High school football is back.
The county rivals square off in their season openers tonight at 7:30 for the second straight year, and do so with different plans to reach the same goal.
The Wolves will be without starting quarterback Jordon Easter due to a high ankle sprain, and will be without the services of three others due to injuries, coach Scott Cloninger said.
So for Lincolnton, which has won nine straight season openers, tonight is about limiting any further damage.
“We’re a little banged up right now. We have four players that are definitely out, and we have two that’s had limited practice this week due to injuries,” Cloninger said. “We’re a little banged up, but we’ve got people that will step in and we feel comfortable with the people that we’re moving in.”
One of those is junior Alex Rhyne, who has been named the starter for tonight’s game, Cloninger said. Rhyne played junior varsity last season and didn’t attempt a varsity pass as Easter started all 14 games.
Of all the injuries the Wolves have suffered since last week’s scrimmages, the quarterback spot has been the biggest issue, Cloninger said. But come 7:30 tonight, who isn’t in the lineup doesn’t matter.
“We’re going to have to go down and play North Lincoln. I feel OK. We’ve had a good week of practice,” Cloninger said. “We’ll just have to deal with these injuries and not worry about them.”
The Knights aren’t too concerned with Lincolnton’s early-season rash of injuries, because they feel its backups are just as good as its starters.
“It’s not going to change a whole lot,” North Lincoln coach David Maness said. “A lot of the things they’ve been doing, the quarterback being out won’t matter much.”
What matters to Maness is seeing his team get over the hump that kept it from upsetting the Wolves last season.
Mistakes cost the Knights what could have been arguably their biggest win in their short 12-year football history. They had first-and-goal from the 1 and threw an interception trailing 14-7 in the second quarter. Now senior Richard Jackson returned a kickoff 85 yards for a score late in the fourth quarter that could have tied it at 28, but had it called back on an excessive celebration penalty that happened before he crossed the goal line. And then there was the infamous missed PAT with 9 seconds to play that would have tied the game and most likely forced overtime.
Maness said he’s mentioned last year’s season-opening 28-27 loss and the way it happened “maybe once,” but the players haven’t forgotten about it.
At least they better not have considering limiting those mistakes –– or eliminating them all together –– will be key for whichever team comes out on top.
“Opening games are usually not won, they’re lost. Somebody makes more mistakes than the other team,” Maness said. “Mistakes determine who wins and loses. The team that makes the fewest mistakes tomorrow night probably stands a 95 percent chance at winning the football game.”
The teams have met every year since 2004, and North Lincoln has just one win in the series, in 2006.
Who knows what can happen tonight.
“First games are always exciting because there are so many unknowns. It’s a county rival, so that makes it important,” Maness said. “Our players are excited, our coaches are excited, and hopefully our community is.”

EAST GASTON at EAST LINCOLN
The teams kick off the season for the second straight year and will meet for the 22nd straight season. The Warriors went 2-8 on the field last season, but picked up a forfeit win from the Mustangs after their use of an ineligible player forced them to give up their 37-22 season-opening win in Mount Holly.
East Gaston enters The Corral tonight returning only four starters from a defense that finished last in the Big South 2A/3A Conference (359.8 yards allowed per game and 36.8 points) according to the Gaston Gazette, while East Lincoln returns six starters from an offense that led the Southern District 7 Athletic 2A Conference in yards per game (384.9) and points (38).

WEST LINCOLN at DRAUGHN
The Rebels and Wildcats open the season for the second straight year and are meeting for the second time. West Lincoln won last year’s meeting in Vale, 28-21, after trailing 14-0 thanks to Daniel Schesny’s 87-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and his 79-yard punt return for a TD.
Both teams lost a ton from last season. Draughn only returns one starter on each side of the ball from a team that finished 3-8, while West Lincoln returns just eight.
The Rebels are 3-1 in season openers under fifth-year head coach Tom Sain.

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