West Lincoln tailback Will Tallentâ€™s return to the lineup from a severely sprained ankle should bolster the Rebelsâ€™ already potent ground attack. Joseph Brymer / LTN Photo
Former Rebelsâ€™ running back and present Wolves tailback Darrell Friday will look to gain yards versus his former team in tonightâ€™s game. Joseph Brymer / LTN Photo
Powell recalls best games in West Lincoln/Lincolnton football series
Let`s face it. For most of the 30-year history of the West Lincoln-Lincolnton football series, the game has not lived up to the hype.
The Wolves lead the series 25-5 and have won five straight.
But every now and then, this county feud produces something special.
As I started thinking back over my 24 years of covering this series, mostly for the Times-News, three games resonate in memory.
If tonightâ€™s matchup at Memorial Stadium reaches the level of those epic battles, it will be a football Friday night to relish.
With that in mind, I present the three greatest games in series history. Those of you who were there will know what I am talking about.
Aug. 31, 1984: After 11 straight losses to its rival, West Lincoln beat Lincolnton for the first time. Tim Stamey rushed for 186 yards on 24 carries to propel the Rebels to a 14-7 win at West Lincoln. Stamey, still the fastest player I have ever seen come through West Lincoln, showcased his breakaway speed on a 55-yard touchdown burst.
The win propelled West Lincoln to a 6-4 season under coach Wes Beam. Lincolnton went on to have one of its rare losing campaigns under Lincoln County Sports Hall of Famer Von Ray Harris, finishing 2-8.
Not only was the game memorable for Stameyâ€™s performance, the West Lincoln defense had a big night, holding the Wolves to three first downs and 93 yards in total offense.
Sept. 5, 1986: Of the three greatest of all time, this one was the best. It unfolded on a beautiful Indian Summer eve at West Lincoln. The Rebels prevailed 7-0 to complete a run of three straight wins over their rival.
The game resembled a back alley brawl. West Lincoln had two players ejected, and the Wolves were penalized four times for unsportsmanlike conduct.
West Lincoln fullback Mike Propst scored the gameâ€™s only TD on a 1-yard run. But the true offensive force was Clay Leatherman, a workhorse back who carried 27 times for 127 yards.
It was the beginning of a magical season for Leatherman, who amassed more than 1,700 yards rushing to break the county single-season record held by his coach, Wes Beam.
A humble, soft-spoken young man off the field, Leatherman was a warrior between the white lines. He punished linebackers and defensive backs and made up in heart and desire what he lacked in speed and slick moves.
The game was also memorable for the performance under pressure by West Lincoln quarterback Dwayne Ayers, who started his first varsity game as a sophomore after senior Chad Eurey went down with an injury. Ayers managed the game like a veteran and did not make any costly mistakes.
At quarterback for Lincolnton was Bobby McLaughlin, who may think about that game tonight when he trots onto the field as a member of his alma materâ€™s coaching staff.
The best defensive player in the game was West Lincolnâ€™s Richard Yarbro, who recovered two fumbles and kept the pressure on McLaughlin with his pass rush.
The issue was in doubt until David Beatenhead intercepted a McLaughlin pass with 1:30 remaining to stop a Lincolnton drive.
No one knew it at the time, but the 1986 game was the last one in the series that Harris would coach. He announced his retirement the following spring after 28 years and nearly 200 wins. It was also the last time that Beam would go against the Wolves as a head coach. He left the next year to teach driverâ€™s education and coach at East Lincoln as an assistant.
Beam still has the best record against Lincolnton by a Lincoln County coach (3-3).
Sept. 28, 2001: Damien Forney turned in the fifth highest single-game rushing mark in Lincoln County history to lead the Wolves to a 20-10 win at West Lincoln before a crowd estimated at 4,000.
Forney carried 30 times for 260 yards as Lincolnton scored all 20 of its points in the final five minutes to overcome a 3-0 deficit.
Ends Clarence Curry and Junior Smith, and linebacker Charlie Stroup led Lincolntonâ€™s stout defense.
The loss spoiled West Lincolnâ€™s best start in football in 15 years and triggered a free fall that saw the Rebels lose seven straight in the Midwest 2A Conference.
Only 2-2 going into the game, the Wolves went on to beat Shelby in the state 2A playoffs for the first time since 1967 and advanced to the semifinal round before losing to Burlington Cummings on a last-second field goal.
by Mike Powell