This week’s showdown between Lincoln County rivals pits the Rebels against the Wolves, with each team eager to bounce back from disappointing losses a week ago.
The Rebels enter tonight’s game coming off a heartbreaking 37-34 loss at Newton-Conover last week in a game that played out in an eerily similar fashion to West Lincoln’s other league loss to North Lincoln. Like the North Lincoln game, West Lincoln led Newton-Conover by double figures in the first half, but a fumble right before halftime shifted momentum, and the Red Devils scored 22 unanswered points en route to victory.
While the Rebels are surely disappointed in their 1-2 record against South Fork 2A competition, their two losses have come against the only remaining unbeaten teams in the league, and they led both those games at halftime. Those two games were sandwiched by a win over Maiden, meaning West Lincoln’s opening three-game stretch was arguably the most difficult of any team in the conference.
With the meat of their schedule behind them, the Rebels are hoping a win over Lincolnton tonight will spark a winning streak to build momentum for the playoffs. The Wolves, on the other hand, remain in search of their first victory in league play.
Despite having only two wins to show for it, Lincolnton appeared headed in the right direction after nearly upsetting East Lincoln in Denver two weeks ago. The Wolves were unable to capitalize on that momentum, however, suffering a 35-0 loss at home to Bandys last week.
That game wasn’t as lopsided as the final score would make it seem, as Lincolnton’s defense - which has been lights out most of the season - held the Trojans to just 13 points through three quarters. The defense eventually gave way, allowing 22 points in the fourth quarter, but there’s only so much the Wolves can do on that side of the ball to stay in games when the Lincolnton offense has been nearly nonexistent.
While Lincolnton isn’t loaded with playmakers like in years past, the most frustrating part for the Wolves and new head coach Joe Glass has to be the self-inflicted errors. The Wolves have turned the ball over eight times in the past two weeks, and were flagged for 15 penalties against Bandys last week, which cost the team 157 yards.
As evidenced by last year’s 20-14 outcome, Lincolnton’s defense is capable of keeping the Wolves in this game late, but the offense will have to do a better job protecting the football for that to matter.
Maiden at North
The Knights made a statement to the rest of the conference with last week’s 52-7 drubbing of East Lincoln, but it’s a new week and North Lincoln will have to be ready for Maiden’s best shot tonight.
The Knights were dominant on both sides of the ball a week ago.
The offense began to find its footing in late September against West Lincoln, with the emergence of sophomore Ty Williams, who’s been tasked with filling the void left when Clayton Cribb graduated. Starting with that West Lincoln game, Williams has compiled nearly 400 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns over the past three weeks.
The success Williams has had pounding the rock up the middle has allowed North Lincoln to use the speed of Jake Soorus and Sam Brady on runs to the outside of the tackles. Now, with senior quarterback Landon Beard back from an August ankle injury, the Knights are operating like a well-oiled machine on offense with one month remaining until the playoffs.
Defensively, the Knights have only allowed one touchdown in 10 quarters of play since halftime of the West Lincoln game, but North Lincoln will have its hands full with a high-powered Maiden attack.
The Blue Devils are led by quarterback Ethan Rhodes, who had been stellar prior to facing his first bit of adversity in a loss to West Lincoln two weeks ago. The sophomore bounced back, however, firing 6 touchdown passes in last week’s win over Lake Norman Charter.
While Rhodes runs the offense, senior wide receiver Dylan Abernethy is Maiden’s best player, and almost certainly the primary focus of North Lincoln’s game plan this week. Abernethy is far and away the best receiver in the conference, leading the league with 44 receptions for 838 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Bandys at East
The sky may feel like it’s falling in Denver after last week’s struggles at North Lincoln, but the Mustangs are still 6-1 on the season. East Lincoln got punched in the mouth for the first time this season last week, and how they respond at home against Bandys tonight will likely go a long way toward determining how the rest of their season plays out.
A Mustangs defense that had only allowed 55 points all season through the first six games took it on the chin a week ago. With the pride and talent East Lincoln possesses on that side of the ball, I expect an inspired performance from the Mustangs defense tonight.
Ultimately, the defense isn’t the problem for East Lincoln. The Mustangs have all the makings of an explosive, offense, but an abundance of turnovers has brought that attack to a screeching halt.
It was five fumbles that nearly cost East Lincoln in a 10-7 win over Lincolnton two weeks ago, and then five more turnovers extinguished any hope of a comeback last week. The Mustangs have to take better care of the football tonight against a Bandys side that wants to run the ball and control the clock.