West Lincoln entered Friday’s football opener with a new head coach, an entirely new backfield and four new offensive linemen, but the Rebels didn’t miss a beat en route to a 52-13 drubbing of Draughn.
“We’re inexperienced, but they’ve worked their butts off,” head coach Darren Ponder said after his first victory at the helm of the Rebels. “We’ve still got a long way to go, but I was proud of our execution tonight, especially early. I was proud of their effort, and they’ve bought in. They believe in just going nose to the grindstone, and this is probably the hardest working bunch I’ve ever coached.”
Among those new faces is senior running back Canon Bridges, a standout on defense last year who figures to be West Lincoln’s featured back in 2019. Bridges staked his claim as one of the top ball carriers in Lincoln County Friday night, piling up 269 yards and 5 touchdowns, and that was all before halftime.
“I’ll tell you straight up, Canon is a dang animal,” Ponder said. “He wants every rep in practice, and every rep in the weight room. He’s the most tenacious kid I’ve ever coached. There’s no quit in him, and he just goes and goes.”
Initially, the game was delayed 30 minutes as a storm rolled through Vale, but it wasn’t long after kickoff before the rout was on.
After the Wildcats turned the ball over on downs at midfield on the game’s opening possession, Bridges took his first carry of the season 42 yards on 3rd and short to put the Rebels on top 6-0 early.
An Antonio Pierce sack halted Draughn’s next drive after just three plays, setting the stage for Bridges’ second touchdown, which he took 23 yards to the end zone to extend the lead to 13-0 midway through the first quarter.
Rebels quarterback Mason Huitt, who lines up at safety on defense, intercepted his quarterbacking counterpart after Draughn’s first foray into West Lincoln territory. The Rebels made the most of the turnover, with Bridges cutting through the defense for 45 yards and his third touchdown of the opening quarter.
The Wildcats opened the second quarter with a three-and-out, and while the Draughn defense was able to hold Bridges in check for the first time all night, it was Xander Pendergrass who joined in on the fun. The senior running back took a pitch and raced 46 yards to pay dirt to push the Rebels’ lead to 27-0.
A botched shotgun snap forced the Wildcats to punt from their own end zone on the ensuing possession, setting West Lincoln up in Draughn territory. After Huitt fired an incompletion on the first play of the drive, he decided make it happen on the ground instead, knifing through the defense for a 45-yard touchdown run.
Despite the 33-0 lead, Ponder’s defense continued to wreak havoc, with junior linebacker Grayson Barkley chasing down Draughn quarterback Braxton Cox for a strip-sack to give the Rebels the ball back.
Bridges promptly barreled 57 yards to the goal line, where he later punched it in on fourth down for his fourth touchdown of the night.
The Rebels forced another fumble on Draughn’s final possession of the first half, and that’s when the frustration set in for the Wildcats.
An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty gave West Lincoln the ball on the Draughn 39-yard line with 10 seconds remaining before halftime. Bridges promptly took a handoff 39 yards for his fifth and final touchdown, helping the Rebels build an insurmountable 46-0 lead at the break.
West Lincoln scored on all seven of its first-half possessions, and with the reserves in to start the third quarter, the Rebels delivered their eighth consecutive score. Junior running back Hunter Leonhardt got to the edge, turned the corner and sprinted 60 yards down the sideline untouched on his way to the end zone.
With a running clock throughout the second half, West Lincoln wouldn’t score again, but the Wildcats were able to avoid the shutout with a one-yard touchdown run by Trent Corn midway through the fourth quarter. A West Lincoln fumble gave the ball right back to Draughn, which found the end zone once more on a 6-yard pass from Cox to Denver Treadway in the game’s final seconds.
While Bridges did the heavy lifting, Pendergrass, Huitt and Leonhardt all eclipsed 50 rushing yards, with a touchdown each to boot. Draughn’s success came in the passing game, with Cox throwing for 162 yards and receiver Nick Chrisco hauling in 10 receptions for 124 yards.
The Rebels racked up 466 yards of offense, all coming via the ground game, while the West Lincoln defense held the Wildcats under 200 total yards, including just 12 rushing yards.
West Lincoln (1-0) is on a bye next week before hosting Cherryville Friday, Sept. 6. Draughn (0-1) will host the Freedom Patriots next week.