Cole Barber

East Lincoln running back Cole Barber eyes the goal line for one of his three touchdowns Friday.

The temperatures may be falling fast, but East Lincoln’s offense is just starting to heat up after racking up nearly 700 total yards in a 63-35 victory over the West Lincoln Rebels on Senior Night in Denver.

The Mustangs played arguably their best football of the season in a dominant first half performance that saw East Lincoln jump out front 28-0 before taking a 35-7 lead to the locker room at halftime.

Senior running back Cole Barber set the tone for the Mustangs, who got the ball first and marched right down the field for their first of nine touchdowns on the night. Barber opened the scoring by knifing through the West Lincoln defense for a 19-yard rushing touchdown, which was followed by a Justin Barnett scamper on the two-point conversion to give East Lincoln an early 8-0 advantage.

The Rebels tried to catch the East Lincoln defense off guard with a double reverse on their first play from scrimmage, but failed to execute the pitch to Hunter Leonhardt, resulting in a fumble that the Mustangs recovered. Barber found the end zone for a second time just moments later, scoring from 6 yards out to extend the lead to 15-0.

Another fumbled pitch put West Lincoln behind the chains on its second possession, and while the Rebels recovered the ball, they were forced to punt it back to East Lincoln after just three plays.

The Mustangs continued to pound away with a balanced rushing attack, but eventually turned the ball over on downs when a fourth-down pass came up just short of the marker inside the red zone. West Lincoln was unable to capitalize, however, as they were forced to punt once more after picking up their first first down of the game.

East Lincoln continued to run the ball at will in the second quarter, and this time it was Paulie Menegay who capped the Mustangs’ scoring drive, fighting his way to a 5-yard touchdown run to go up by three scores.

With East Lincoln dominating the line of scrimmage on offense, its front seven on defense did the same, bottling up a West Lincoln attack that entered Friday with the most rushing yards in the South Fork 2A. Two more three-and-outs for the Rebels in the second quarter sandwiched a quick-strike touchdown for East Lincoln, which went away from the run as senior quarterback Justin Barnett hit freshman Markell Clark for a 66-yard touchdown pass to push the lead to 28-0.

Justin Barnett

East Lincoln senior quarterback Justin Barnett threw four touchdown passes Friday night.

West Lincoln finally cracked the scoreboard late in the first half, when its rushing attack started to gain traction behind running back Canon Bridges. The senior got the ball on four consecutive plays, leading the Rebels downfield before capping the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run.

The Mustangs wasted little time answering, however, pushing the lead back to 28 points when Barber shrugged off several would-be tacklers on a 30-yard touchdown run. Barber’s third touchdown of the first half gave East Lincoln a 35-7 advantage at halftime.

West Lincoln came to life after the break, taking less than five minutes to cut the deficit in half.

Senior running back Xander Pendergrass led the charge, scoring on an 18-yard touchdown run on West Lincoln’s first drive of the second half. Like the Rebels in the first half, East Lincoln fumbled away its first possession after halftime, and Pendergrass struck again, hauling in a 51-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Mason Huitt on a wheel route out of the backfield to bring the Rebels within 35-21.

While the offense found its footing, West Lincoln’s defense couldn’t do the same, as the Mustangs continued to pile on the points, starting with a 34-yard touchdown pass from Barnett to Menegay.

The Rebels would cut it back down to 14 once more when Pendergrass scored his third touchdown on three consecutive touches, taking a pitch and racing 59 yards down the sideline to keep West Lincoln within shouting distance. East Lincoln would respond once more, however, as Orlandis Howell-Johnson matched Pendergrass with a 59-yard touchdown run of his own.

The Rebels marched down the field once more on their ensuing possession, driving the ball into East Lincoln territory before freshman safety Landon Glezen stepped in front of a Huitt pass for an interception. The Mustangs delivered the fatal blow just two plays later when Barnett connected with Menegay again, this time on an 86-yard touchdown pass to put East Lincoln on top 56-28 heading into the fourth quarter.

While the game was well in hand, Pendergrass would go on to add his fourth touchdown of the night in the final quarter, scoring on a 2-yard burst up the middle. The Mustangs would answer with Barnett’s fourth touchdown pass that traveled all of a foot to Clark, who weaved his way through the defense for 27 yards and his second touchdown reception.

East Lincoln ran for more than 400 yards on 48 attempts, led by Barber’s 128 yards and 3 touchdowns on 13 carries. Barnett completed 9-of-15 passes for 280 yards and 4 touchdowns, including four completions to Menegay for 152 yards and 2 touchdowns.

The Rebels also did most of their damage on the ground, rushing for 321 yards, including 146 yards and 3 touchdowns from Pendergrass, who also caught two passes for 65 yards and another touchdown.

East Lincoln (8-2, 4-2 SF2A) will play at Newton-Conover in next week’s regular season finale, while West Lincoln (7-3, 3-3 SF2A) will host Lake Norman Charter on Senior Night.

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