GASTONIA -- A closely contested game that went back and forth set up a dramatic finish Friday night in a long-delayed season opener at Ashbrook’s William C. Eccles Field.
In a stretch of 36 seconds, West Lincoln scored at the end of a textbook 89-yard drive, all on the ground, only to see Ashbrook answer with an 84-yard pass play
In the end, the game came down to a two-point conversion attempt after the Green Wave pulled within 21-19 with 51 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. However, Chandler Meeks’ pass was batted around and broken up in the end zone.
Following an unsuccessful onside kick by Ashbrook, the Rebels gained possession at the Green Wave 44 and went into victory formation, basically sealing a 21-19 win.
Ashbrook did get the ball again, but only with nine seconds left, and the Rebels broke up another Meeks pass to make it official.
Four weeks into the regular season, Ashbrook stepped onto the field for the first time after battling COVID-19 issues.
“I’m proud of these guys because we have been through hell,” Ashbrook coach Darius James said of the ordeal. “It was hard to keep their minds in it, and there were times we couldn’t even practice.”
Nevertheless, when Meeks scrambled away from pursuit and connected with Carmelo Bess on the most explosive play of the game, Ashbrook was just a two-point conversion away from tying the score.
But the Rebels put pressure on Meeks and forced him to throw into a tight window in the end zone.
“We had opportunities, but we didn’t get them. We have to start capitalizing on those,” James said.
The teams combined for 27 points in the eventful fourth quarter after West led 7-6 at the half and the third quarter was scoreless.
The Rebels (3-0) enjoyed a decided edge in time of possession thanks mostly to a pair of scoring drives covering 78 yards and 89 yards. The latter covered 12 plays and featured the running of Mason Avery and Trace Gilmore, who moved the chains behind a line surge that consistently pushed back the line of scrimmage.
Avery, who led all rushers with 176 yards on 25 carries, capped the drive with a 1-yard run and carried for the two-point conversion to break a 13-13 tie.
For Ashbrook, Bess had four receptions for 154 yards, two of them touchdowns, and rushed for 41yards on 11 attempts.
Although Avery was the workhorse for the Rebels, Gilmore had a big night with 134 yards and a touchdown.
While the West Lincoln defense gave up a few big pass plays, the Rebels were solid throughout, forcing a fumble and limiting the Green Wave to 91 yards rushing on 26 attempts. Junior linebacker Nathan Kester led the effort with 10 tackles and a fumble recovery on Ashbrook’s first play from scrimmage.
The Rebels converted that turnover into a 31-yard scoring drive to go up 7-0.
Candor Headrick and Zach Diagler had six tackles each, and Mason Avery stood out on defense too, getting credit for five tackles, including one for a loss, a pass break-up, and a blocked kick. Lineman Curtis Goins chipped in four tackles, a sack, and a pass break-up.
Both teams open conference play this week, with Ashbrook hosting Crest in the Big South 3A and West Lincoln traveling to Bandys in the Catawba Valley 2A. (Published September 13, 2021)