Big second half propels NL to 2-0
VALE –– For years North Lincoln’s work on the football field has appeared futile.
Richard Jackson ran for 108 yards and two touchdowns, Ethan Gram added 121 yards on the ground and the Knights scored three unanswered TDs to down West Lincoln 20-7 Friday night for its first 2-0 start since 2004.
“The kids just play hard,” said North Lincoln coach David Maness, whose team won back-to-back games for the first time in his three seasons at the helm. “There’s no quit in them. They just keep fighting, and we tell them all the time that if they’ll keep fighting, something good will happen.”
Jackson’s first score answered a touchdown by the Rebels (1-1), who got a 3-yard scoring run from Todric Anderson late in the third quarter. The senior wingback scored on back-to-back drives, the first a 10-yard run and the second from 11 yards out, to give the Knights a 14-7 lead with 7:30 to play.
North Lincoln’s defense, which held the Rebels to a total of 150 yards rushing –– their fewest in at least two seasons –– didn’t allow West Lincoln to gain another yard.
Its offense, meanwhile, scored on three consecutive drives, culminated by Matt Koe’s 1-yard run with 2:25 to play.
“They sent a lot of big bodies at us, and they were every bit as big as they looked on film,” said Rebels coach Tom Sain, whose team was denied a 2-0 start for the third straight year. “They’ve got a good thing going for them. They’re tough to prepare for.”
The Knights, who had 306 yards rushing and attempted only one pass, which was incomplete, had two takeaways while playing turnover-free football for the second straight week.
West Lincoln had third-and-goal from the 1 late in the second quarter, and a bad snap in the wildcat formation over the head of senior fullback Charles Mack George was recovered by Gram.
Caleb Sherrill then picked off Noah Marsh with the Rebels in desperation mode to seal the deal.
“This group is special,” Maness said. “They’re willing to do whatever it takes to win.”
Both teams missed field goals on their opening drives, and were about as even as could be at the half. West Lincoln, which was led by George’s 121 yards rushing, had 115 yards on the ground and 16 through the air at the break. North Lincoln, which looks for its first 3-0 start in school history against East Lincoln next week, had 129 yards, all rushing, at halftime.
The Rebels took the opening drive of the second half 76 yards in 17 plays and 7 minutes, 37 seconds, to break a scoreless game. Marsh, who was 4 of 8 passing for 53 yards and an interception, had three completions of eight or more yards on the drive, which ended with Anderson’s score.
From that point forward the Rebels lost 4 yards while the Knights gained 177 and scored three times.
“We challenged them at halftime, and told them we’re going to have to make a play somewhere,” Maness said. “We came out in our single-wing after halftime, and it gave us some spark.”
That single-wing formation confused Lincolnton enough in the second half of Week 1 to allow North Lincoln to grab a three-TD edge and hold on for the 26-13 win.
In the second half of Friday’s contest the Knights again went back to the single-wing, and again it paid dividends.
The Rebels knew what was coming, but couldn’t stop it.
“They went into some different things offensively … and started moving the ball,” Sain said. “They started pounding us, and kept the defense out there a long time.”
Up next for North Lincoln is another county rival, East Lincoln. The Knights have only beaten the Mustangs once since North Lincoln played its first football season in 2003. The same could be said of its series with Lincolnton before the teams clashed in Week 1, but not anymore.
A one-game-at-a-time, yeoman-like approach, no matter the opponent, has the Knights looking for their first 3-0 start, their first three-game winning streak in a single season since their school-record six straight wins in 2007, and their first-ever unofficial Lincoln County championship.
North Lincoln is currently riding a three-game win streak, dating back to last season’s win over West Iredell in the finale.
“Next week will be mythical, and I know East (Lincoln) will be ready and they’ve got a great football team, but you always want to play for something. It’s for the Lincoln County championship,” Maness said. “We’ll be ready.
“We’ll go back to work Monday at 5 o’clock. … What got us to where we are now, will take us to wherever we go.”