The East Lincoln Mustangs snapped out of a two-game scoring drought to beat the North Lincoln Knights 28-12 at the Dungeon Friday night.
Most of East Lincolnâ€™s damage was caused by junior running back Ryan Sykes who torched the Knights for 180 yards on 25 carries and two touchdowns. Sykes also returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown.
In front of over 3,000 people, Knightsâ€™ quarterback Trent Hopkins hit Devin Borders for a 15-yard score to give them an early 6-0 lead after failing to connect on the extra point. The touchdown was set up by a 37-yard fade route to Lasharion Johnson.
The Mustangs were quick to answer with sophomore linebacker Todd Warren laying a bone-crushing hit on Northâ€™s tailback Todd Eaton who fumbled on the Knightsâ€™ 27-yard line. Seth Alexander for East scooped up the ball and returned it 20 yards to the eight-yard line.
What Alexander set up he finished when Mustang quarterback Grayson Schram hit him on a fade pattern in the left corner of the endzone. Ellis Dunston hit the extra point to put them up 7-6 with 10 minutes left in the second quarter.
On Northâ€™s final possession of the half, after Warren sacked Trent Hopkins for a 13-yard loss, the Knights went deep into the playbook for a trick play.
Hopkins with defenders in his face threw a 40-yard spiral on a double-reverse pass on a rope to a wide open Knightsâ€™ receiver. Unfortunately for the home crowd, the play was not made allowing the Mustangs to hang on to a 7-6 lead at halftime.
East Lincolnâ€™s Sykes on the first play of the second half picked up a seal block running to left that allowed him to get the corner. The block allowed him to get the corner as he scampered 70 yards untouched for his first score of the night. The Dunston kick put the Mustangs up 14-6.
The Knights refused to quit when on the fifth-play of their next drive Hopkins hit Borders for a 69-yard touchdown on a play-action pass with 10:13 left in the third quarter. Casey Woodie was stacked up at the line of scrimmage failing to convert the two-point conversion leaving North down 14-12.
The ensuing kickoff Sykes caught the ball at the five hurdled two defenders then running over another defender en route to a 95-yard touchdown that took any momentum the Knights had. Dunston converted his third extra point of the night to make it a two-score game with the Mustangs ahead 21-12.
The next four possessions were similar to a game of hot potato with both Hopkins and Schram throwing interceptions on the first two.
Fred Wingate picked off a Hopkinsâ€™ flare pass, while Josh Weddle a senior defense back intercepted a pass on his own five-yard line to thwart any hope of the Mustangs.
A Hopkinsâ€™ overthrow landed in the hands of Mustangsâ€™ defensive back Antron Nixon.
East Lincoln showed the Knights a new look on offense going into the wishbone but it resulted in a fumble. The fumble was recovered by Aaron Mintun.
The Knights quickly gave the ball back on a fumble of their own.
North Lincoln had the Mustangs in a third and 21 near midfield but were whistled for a roughing the passer call.
While East wasnâ€™t able to score on the drive they ate up six minutes on a 10-play drive.
The Knightsâ€™ hopes for a win ended when Hopkins was picked off by Schram with 8:43 left.
Sykes put the nail in the coffin on a fake reverse that resulted in a 33-yard touchdown with 3:23 left.
The game was heated with both teams racking up personal fouls throughout the contest.
All ended well with both teams hugging each other with some players shedding tears after the hard-fought game.
Hopkins, in the losing cause, threw for 235 yards hitting on 14-34 passes with two touchdown and three interceptions.
The leading rusher for North was Eaton with 16 yards on seven carries. The leading receivers were Borders and Nathan Travis who both had 84 yards.
Alexander, Russell Mahaffey and Nixon all finished with two catches each. Schram played an efficient game at quarterback going 7-13 for 64 yards.
â€˜It feels good, it really does,â€ Schram said of the Mustangsâ€™ first win of the season.
Sykes believes his team has put their offensive struggles behind them.
â€œBoth teams didnâ€™t want to get the loss cause weâ€™ve been losing. Ever since last Lincolnton, we put our offense together. We came out here knowing that our offense would be clicking on all cylinders,â€ he said.
â€œThose yards that I got wouldnâ€™t have been possible without my offensive line and the whole team,â€ Sykes added.
Reggie Shuford, an addition to the Mustang coaching staff as running back coach, has â€˜already made a tremendous difference,â€ according to head coach Matt Rikard.
â€œHe (Ryan) had a phenomenal night. Heâ€™s a special kid and any time weâ€™re able to get that many rushing yards we know the offensive line had a pretty good night,â€ he said.
â€œIt was a good high school football game between two competitive teams,â€ North Lincoln head coach Lonnie Custer said.
The Knights fall to 2-2 on the season, while the Mustangs are now 1-3 on the year.
by John Mark Brooks