NL upsets Wolves behind Jackson’s 203 rushing yards
PUMPKIN CENTER –– No one thought North Lincoln could do it, but the Knights didn’t get the memo.
Richard Jackson ran for 203 yards and two touchdowns, including a 79-yard score that put this one out of reach as North Lincoln upset 10th-ranked Lincolnton 26-13 Friday night in the season opener for both teams.
The Knights (1-0) forced the Wolves into three turnovers while committing none themselves, and their defense held Lincolnton (0-1) without a point in the first 34 minutes to win for just the second time in the teams’ short 10-year series history.
The upset also snapped Lincolnton’s own season openers won streak at nine.
“The kids are starting to believe in what we tell them,” North Lincoln coach David Maness said. “It was just a good night. … We can’t be any better than 1 and 0, and hopefully we can build on it.”
North Lincoln led 19-0 before Willie Cobb’s 6-yard TD run got Lincolnton on the board with 1:53 to play in the third quarter. Two drives later the Wolves made it a one-score game when freshman quarterback Cordel Littlejohn connected with Quinlyn Harris –– not his intended target –– for a 74-yard TD pass to make it 19-13 with 6:55 to play.
North Lincoln took over at its own 20 after the touchback, and on second-and-9 the Wolves had Jackson pinned in the backfield. But the speedy wingback broke four tackles, all for loss, and sprinted 79 yards to put it away.
“We had a chance,” Wolves coach Scott Cloninger said. “As bad as we played in the first half, we had a chance with 6 minutes to go in the game. They overshifted, we didn’t shift, and then he made a great play.”
Littlejohn, making his varsity debut due to the absence of injured starter Jordon Easter, who was out with a high ankle sprain, completed 7 of his 12 passes for 135 yards and an interception. He completed four straight totaling 110 yards late in the third and into the fourth quarter, which helped Lincolnton climb back in.
Junior Alex Rhyne got the start at quarterback for the Wolves and completed his only pass for 11 yards.
North Lincoln forced the Wolves to turn it over on downs on their first possession after they drove to the Knights 22. The takeaway turned into the game’s first six points 15 plays later when Knights quarterback Chase Caldwell hit Jacob Holley for a 12-yard TD pass at the 11:10 mark of the second quarter.
The score stood until the break, and the Knights took the opening drive of the second half 86 yards for a score when Jackson punched it in from 3 yards out.
After back-to-back blocked PATs by Tyron Roberts North Lincoln led 12-0. Its defense forced a Lincolnton punt, and a 54-yard run by Jackson on first down set up J-Mo Thompson’s 10-yard TD run.
Hayes Irving was able to get the ball up on the PAT this time, and the Knights led 19-0 with 3:17 left in the third.
“We worked hard in practice, I can tell you that,” Jackson said. “We’re going to lay the first hit and keep hitting, give it all we’ve got.
“We pushed each other a lot this week.”
On the ensuing drive Littlejohn hit Harris, who had four catches for 94 yards, for a 13-yard pickup, and then connected with Chavis Russell for a 22-yard pass to set up Cobb’s 6-yard score which got the Wolves on the board.
After forcing North Lincoln into its third three-and-out of the night, Lincolnton fumbled the punt return attempting to change directions with a handoff. North Lincoln took over at the Wolves 20, and had first-and-goal from the 9, but a goal line stand by the Wolves forced the Knights to punt.
Two plays later Littlejohn threw to Nick Hatchett, but the ball ricocheted off his shoulder pads and into the hands of a wide-open Harris, who went 74 yards for the score and made it 19-13. But Jackson couldn’t be contained on the Knights’ next drive, and his 79-yard TD run effectively ended a seven-game losing streak to Lincolnton.
“You do all of the hard things (in the preseason) so you can enjoy this on Friday night,” Maness said.
Those hard things –– conditioning, weight training, perfecting assignments –– turned this David versus Goliath meeting on its heels.
Lincolnton entered the 10th meeting between the two ranked 10th in NCPreps.com’s preseason Baker’s Dozen 2A poll, and had a pair of senior defenders on its preseason all-state team in defensive end Darian Roseboro and defensive back Quinlyn Harris.
That defense had trouble stopping the Knights, who ran for 275 yards, in the second half and weren’t on anyone’s radar, individually or as a team.
Jackson, a senior who’s previous varsity career high in rushing was 99 yards against West Lincoln in Week 2 of last season, had more yards on the ground by himself than Lincolnton had as a team (171).
North Lincoln came onto the field in brand new black uniforms, and switched its offense to a single-wing package in the second half to break a 6-0 game wide open.
The Wolves gave up just 65 total yards and six points in the first half. But the adjustment made by the Knights was enough to put some separation between the two.
“That gave us a pretty good lift, and they didn’t have an answer for that,” Maness said.
The three turnovers, penalties and mistakes snowballed for Lincolnton, which lost its season opener for the first time since 2004.
An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Harris turned a punting situation into a first down after he batted away Caldwell’s pass on third-and-8. Six plays later, on fourth-and-4, Caldwell threw his TD pass to Holley to open the scoring.
The Wolves were driving on the ensuing possession when Cobb fumbled at the Knights 25. North Lincoln then went three-and-out, but another turnover, a Littlejohn pass picked off by Jimmy Scott, stalled yet another Lincolnton drive in North Lincoln territory.
The fumbled exchange came after the Wolves held North Lincoln to another three-and-out, and missed tackles two Knights drives later cost them dearly.
“North Lincoln played well. Turnover just killed us,” said Cloninger, whose team travels to Belmont South Point for its second game. “We’ll go back and try to correct some issues and hope Jordon’s healthy next week because we’ve got (an) even tougher (opponent) next week. We’ve got to regroup and understand that it’s a long season.”
Up next for the Knights is West Lincoln, which overpowered host Valdese Draughn in a 34-21 win in its season opener.
Mistakes did in North Lincoln in last year’s season opener at Lincolnton, and Jackson thinks the 28-27 loss snowballed on the Knights as the year progressed.
He only sees progress ahead after Friday’s big win.
“It’s huge. Last year we let our heads get down after the first game. Now, I think we’ve got everybody hyped up,” said Jackson, who had all but 29 of his 203 yards in the second half. “I think we’re ready to go. I think this is our season.”