If winning on the road at West Lincoln by double figures didn’t put the league on notice, the North Lincoln Knights made a statement on their home field Friday night, hanging 52 points on an East Lincoln defense that had only allowed 55 points total through its first six games this season.
“I never expected this,” North Lincoln head coach Nick Bazzle said following his team’s 52-7 victory. “Sometimes these kind of things just happen in a game like this. I give credit to East Lincoln because they’ve got a heck of a football team, but our kids tonight just showed that they’re hungry. They’ve got a goal and they’ve got their eyes on it.”
As a packed house settled in for a battle of unbeaten teams in the South Fork 2A, senior running back Sam Brady took the first play from scrimmage 80 yards for a touchdown to put the Knights on top 7-0 early, setting the tone for the blowout to follow.
East Lincoln’s Orlandis Howell-Johnson returned the ensuing kickoff into North Lincoln territory - the first of two long returns for the sophomore on the night - but the Mustangs promptly went three-and-out before punting the ball back to North Lincoln.
The Knights marched the ball 70 yards on 12 plays, chewing up eight minutes off the game clock, but East Lincoln’s defense stood tall and forced a 32-yard Ian Fiore field goal that sailed through the uprights.
A Mustangs side that lost five fumbles a week ago put the ball on the ground on their next possession, and junior Ty Castro jumped on it to give North Lincoln the ball back inside the red zone. Three plays later, sophomore Ty Williams busted up the middle for a 3-yard touchdown run, and a two-point conversion extended the lead to 18-0.
Just when East Lincoln appeared to find its rhythm on offense with a couple first downs, the drive stalled near midfield and Brady blocked the Mustangs’ punt. North Lincoln senior quarterback Landon Beard, who played his first full game since Week 1, faked the run and found Jake Soorus over the top for a 32-yard touchdown pass on the very next play to give the Knights a 25-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Howell-Johnson’s second long kickoff return set up the Mustangs at North Lincoln’s 30-yard line to open the second quarter, and a couple nice runs by Cole Barber quickly moved East Lincoln to the goal line.
The Knights stuffed back-to-back runs for no gain, and then Williams went unblocked on a blitz from his linebacker position and blew up a hand-off in the backfield on third down. The Mustangs went for it on fourth down, but North Lincoln cornerback Craig “Tic” Rathbone jumped in front of a slant route for the first of his two interceptions on the night.
Another long drive for the Knights covered 80 yards on 13 plays, culminating with a 15-yard touchdown strike from Beard to Seth Whitley on a post route.
Trailing 32-0, the Mustangs were finally able to stop the bleeding on the next play from scrimmage, when senior quarterback Justin Barnett uncorked a bomb to Mikivi Phinx for 69 yards and a touchdown.
North Lincoln kept its foot on the gas, however, and minutes later Beard connected on a deep ball of his own, finding Seth Moody behind the defense for 51 yards and his third touchdown pass of the first half, giving the Knights a 39-7 lead at halftime.
Turnovers continued to plague the Mustangs in the second half, and North Lincoln capitalized. Beard added a 6-yard rushing touchdown to go with his prolific performance through the air, and Williams raced 24 yards for his second rushing touchdown to cement the 52-7 final score.
“I’ll tell you where the game was won, and that’s up front along the line of scrimmage,” Bazzle said. “If we win the line of scrimmage, we’ll usually win the game, and I can’t tell you how proud I am of those five linemen we have up front. They don’t get any recognition unless the play doesn’t work, but when Sam breaks an 80-yard run on the first play, you better believe there were some blocks thrown that nobody saw because all they were watching was (number) four (Brady). I’m just so proud of those guys up front and our backs that play behind them appreciate what they do.”
Williams was the primary beneficiary of the offensive line’s dominant performance, racking up 120 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns on 10 carries. As a team, the Knights churned out 393 rushing yards on 49 attempts.
While the linemen were the unsung heroes, Beard was the star, completing 4-of-8 passes for 108 yards and 3 touchdowns, while rushing for 50 yards and another score.
“Beard had a breakout game, and you wouldn’t even know the boy had been out for five weeks basically with the way he played tonight,” Bazzle said. “I never expected him to come out and look as sharp as he did. He just brings that senior leadership and the guys rally around him. I don’t want to take anything away from (backup quarterback) Jack (Carter) because he did a heck of a job running the show these past five games. I’m as proud of the way he handled tonight as I am of Beard.”
The Knights (6-1, 3-0 SF2A) will host the Maiden Blue Devils next Friday, while the Mustangs (6-1, 2-1 SF2A) will welcome the Bandys Trojans to Denver for homecoming.