VALE -- The seventeenth football meeting between North Lincoln and West Lincoln more than lived up to the series’ reputation for close games, big plays, and most of all, nail-biting endings.
In the fall season opener Friday night at Douglas C. Leonhardt Memorial Stadium, West Lincoln’s defense stopped the Knights at the one-yard line with no time left on the clock, sealing a 14-7 victory.
The Rebel win, which reversed a 10-6 loss in the spring at North Lincoln, enabled West Lincoln to break an 8-8 tie in the county rivalry.
West Lincoln had an enormous edge in time of possession and rushing yardage, yet the outcome remained in doubt until the end. The Rebels churned out 332 yards on 57 carries, compared to 80 yards on 25 attempts for North.
West Lincoln running back Mason Avery had one of the most productive season openers in West Lincoln history, rushing 34 times for 243 yards and giving new meaning to the phrase “workhorse running back.”
Avery scored both West Lincoln touchdowns, including a seven-yard burst with 3:11 remaining in the third quarter to put his team ahead to stay.
Yet, despite Avery’s slippery running and West Lincoln’s domination of the line of scrimmage, the Knights made things interesting in a wild fourth quarter.
On two occasions, including the hectic final seconds, North Lincoln threatened to score, only to be turned away by West Lincoln.
The first clutch defensive series of the fourth came with 8:54 left. North Lincoln’s Brennen Rogers tried to score on fourth-and-goal but was dragged down at the one-yard line, leaving the Knights with nothing to show for their most sustained offensive series of the game.
Just as they had done all night, the Rebels took over on the change of possession and proceeded to grind out a six-minute, 15-play drive that kept the ball away from the desperate Knights.
The series ended with a West Lincoln punt, but the Knights had to start the next possession on their own 20 with under two minutes left and no timeouts remaining.
Somehow, quarterback Kyle Kovalchuk put his team in position to tie or win the game by scrambling on the run and completing passes of 38 yards to Timmy Schafer and 22 yards to Reed King.
A roughing-the-passer penalty pushed the ball half the distance to the goal line at the seven, setting the stage for the dramatic ending. On the game’s final play, with the stadium clock showing 0:00, Kovalchuk completed a pass to the sideline to King with a Rebel defender bearing down on him.
However, King was forced out of bounds near the one-yard line, and the West Lincoln bench stormed the field to revel in the game-saving play.
“Coach Bazzle (North Lincoln coach Nicky Bazzle) told me after the game, ‘A typical West-North game. Whoever has the ball last has got a chance to win,’” West Lincoln coach Darren Ponder said. “Both sides played their butts off. They know what we do and we know what they do.”
Oddly, for a team that usually doesn’t hurt itself with mistakes, the Knights made several that proved costly. On back-to-back series in the first half, North Lincoln runners fumbled the ball away to West, a trend that set the tone for a frustrating evening for the Knights’ rushing game.
But those turnovers paled in comparison to a series of mental errors in the kicking game in the third quarter. Twice, North punter Liam Sutton got off successful boots from his own end zone and kept the ball away from West Lincoln returner Charles Winnex, only to have the punts nullified by illegal procedure infractions.
On the third attempt, with Sutton backed up to the end line of the end zone, Winnex fielded the punt around the 45-yard line of North and zipped off a 40-yard return to the five. Two plays later, Avery crashed through to the end zone.
After placekicker Trista Primmer converted the extra point, becoming the first known female to score in Lincoln County varsity football history, the Rebels led 14-7.
“Every time they messed up, we got five yards closer,” Ponder said of the penalties that gave West multiple return opportunities. “That is not typical of them, but it worked out for us.”
As for the big plays that typify this series, North Lincoln broke one on its first offensive play. Kovalchuk drew in the defense with play-action and flipped a pass in the flat to King. The play should have been stopped for about five yards, but not one but two Rebel defenders missed tackles on King near the sideline and he sped 80 yards for a touchdown and the first score of the game.
East Lincoln 39, Hibriten 7
The East Lincoln High School football team made a statement Friday night with a convincing 39-7 win over the Hibriten Panthers at Storie Memorial Stadium in Lenoir.
The Mustangs scored 13 points in each of the first two quarters of the game to build a 26-7 lead by the end of the first half.
Following a lengthy lightning delay, East Lincoln added a couple more scores while the Mustang defense shut down the Hibriten offense.
East Lincoln (1-0) will travel to Forestview this week for another non conference matchup, while Hibriten (0-1) will play host to Hunter Huss.
The Mustangs improved to 9-0 all-time against Hibriten.
South Point 46, Lincolnton 7
Heading into Friday night’s season opener in Belmont, Lincolnton knew that they would have their hands full with a very big and physical Red Raider team.
Senior fullback Tyson Riley proved to be too much, scoring four rushing touchdowns and leading South Point to a 46-7 season-opening win over the Wolves.
Lincolnton played a solid first half against the Red Raiders, in spite of a lopsided field-position battle. In fact, when Easton Dellinger hauled in a 22-yard scoring pass from Andre Bost on a fourth down play in the second quarter, the Wolves trailed by just seven.
Lincolnton was then able to get a key stop on a South Point fourth-down play, and headed to the locker room at the half trailing 14-7.
But three third-quarter scores by the Red Raiders would put the contest out of reach. South Point extended their lead to 35-7 by the end of the period to seal the victory.
Riley led the Red Raider offense with scoring runs of 27, 34, 11 and 17 yards. Jackson Blee hauled in a 53-yard scoring pass from David Howard, and Dalton Skipper added a 2-yard scoring run for South Point (1-0), who will travel to East Gaston this Friday.
For the Wolves (0-1), the team was held to 102 yards on the ground on 34 carries. Sophomore quarterback Andre Bost had over half of those yards, gaining 53 yards on 13 carries for Lincolnton.
Bost also completed 5 of his nine pass attempts for 51 yards and a touchdown.
The Wolves will play host to county-rival North Lincoln this Friday in their home opener.
(Published August 23, 2021)