Above, Sophomore quarterback Trent Hopkins lowers the boom on a Cherryville defender. Hopkins accounted for two touchdowns against the Ironmen. The 22-13 victory solidified a slot in the 1A State Playoffs for the Knights. Below, running back Casey Woodie pancakes an Ironmen in the third quarter of Fridayâ€™s game. Joseph Brymer / LTN Photo
North Lincoln will open 1AA
Playoffs at Starmount Friday
CHERRYVILLE–North Lincoln earned a berth in the state 1AA playoffs Friday night with a 22-13 victory over Cherryville at Rudisill Stadium.
The Knights (4-7, 1-4) ) were a good bet to make the postseason anyway, but they made it official by winning their first Southern Foothills Conference game.
The loss knocked Cherryville out of the playoff picture and ended the Ironmen`s season at 0-10 (0-5 SF1A).
North Lincoln opens the 1AA playoffs this Friday night at Starmount.
Quarterback Trent Hopkins ran for one touchdown and passed for another, and the North Lincoln defense came up with three fumble recoveries.
The 6-1, 185-pound sophomore completed five of 10 passes for 78 yards and led the Knights in rushing with 84 yards on 18 carries.
North Lincoln was in control of the game throughout, but the Knights could not put away the winless Ironmen, who battled back from deficits of 14-0 and 22-7.
Hopkins scored on a nine-yard keeper the first time North Lincoln had the ball, and he added a 29-yard touchdown pass to Devin Borders in the third quarter.
After the scoring pass, Hopkins and Borders hooked up again on the 2-point conversion to put North Lincoln on top, 22-7.
The Knights had two more chances in the third quarter to break the game open, but they failed to convert a fourth and one at the Cherryville 32 and Hopkins threw an interception on a flea-flicker that did not fool defensive back Tripp McSwain.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Ironmen got within striking distance on a 11-yard scoring pass from Drew Laskey to freshman Kalem Johnson on a fade route.
However, on the all-important conversion attempt, the Knights` pass rush forced a hurried throw to the end zone. It meant the Ironmen would need to score twice to win the game.
North Lincoln ran four minutes off the clock on the next series before stalling at the Cherryville 10-yard line. The Ironmen put together a final drive, but their hopes faded when Johnson fumbled at the Knights` 27 with 2:04 left.
Cherryville also fumbled at the North Lincoln 29 in the first quarter, and Laskey coughed up the ball later in the half on a hit by linebacker Brian Funk.
“The kids played great early,” said North Lincoln coach Lonnie Custer. “They executed the scheme that we tried defensively really well. We had a shutout in the first half, which has never happened before.”
On offense, fullback Casey Woodie gave the Knights an inside running game with 73 yards on 15 carries. Woodie had a 22-yard gain on a direct snap to highlight the first scoring drive.
But it was Hopkins who made the offense go.
“He is a 15-year-old sophomore who plays like a senior,” Custer said of Hopkins, who amassed more than 2,000 yards of offense in the Knights` first 10 games.
“He`s up there passing and rushing, and he is selfless. I mean it. He would run the fullback dive play every play as long as we win.”
And the Knights have made winning more of a habit than in their inaugural season, when the record was 1-11 and the average score was 58-6. North Lincoln would be 5-6 entering the playoffs if one of its non-conference wins had not been forfeited due to an eligibility infraction.
“We`re giving up about 30 points and we`re scoring 25, so we have competed with people this year. That was our goal, and we have been real proud of these kids,” Custer said.
Cherryville coach Richard Davis said the turning point came in the first quarter when his team trailing 7-0. The Ironmen lost the ball on a turnover at the North Lincoln 29 when Brock Alexander fumbled at the end of a 13-yard run.
“I thought Brock hit the ground, and then the fumble came out. If the rule reads the ground cannot cause a fumble, I thought we came out of the short end of the deal on that one. If we don`t get that call, and we go in the end zone, it`s 7-7,” Davis said.
As it was, North Lincoln converted the turnover into a 15-yard touchdown run by Brandon Mull.
Senior Aaron Smith did all he could to extend Cherryville`s season. He returned a punt 99 yards for a touchdown, rushed 10 times for 35 yards and caught two passes for 29 yards.
by Mike Powell