SHELBY – One of the most successful seasons in the history of the North Lincoln High School football program came to an abrupt end in the third round of the playoffs on the final night of November. The Knights, who had advanced this far in the playoffs just one other time, ran into a buzzsaw against the Shelby Golden Lions, falling 35-7 against the perennial powerhouse.

The Golden Lions flexed their muscle on defense in the victory, stifling Clayton Cribb and the North Lincoln power run game, while also showing incredible team speed when the Knights tried to pitch the ball to the outside. Shelby’s defense set the tone early when Johntavius Kee intercepted a third down screen pass on North Lincoln’s first possession of the game, setting up a 9-yard Donye Fuller touchdown run that gave the Golden Lions a 14-0 lead midway through the first quarter.

While the Golden Lions did more than enough on offense to earn the victory, it wasn’t always pretty. Quarterback Isaiah Bess missed on a couple of wide open deep balls that would have gone for touchdowns, and his receivers dropped a handful of others that likely would have resulted in points. Fuller, who tallied three rushing touchdowns to lead his team to victory, had a fourth touchdown run called back on a penalty as well.

Despite their struggling offense, the North Lincoln defense fought tooth and nail to keep their team in the game, and appeared to cut the deficit to 28-7 late in the third quarter when defensive back Sam Brady diagnosed a bubble screen and jumped the route for an interception that he returned 70 yards to the end zone for a touchdown. The play was called back; however, as North Lincoln was flagged for roughing the passer and the points were taken off the board.

The penalty proved costly as Shelby took advantage of the second opportunity when Bess connected with wide receiver Diavonni Daley on a 20-yard touchdown pass to extend the lead to 35-0 early in the fourth quarter. Bess tossed two touchdowns in the game, both of which were hauled in by Daley.

Rather than sulking on the 14-point swing that put the game out of reach, the Knights answered immediately with their only touchdown of the night. Jake Soorus nearly took the ensuing kickoff to the house, and North Lincoln capitalized on the great field position when quarterback Landon Beard found East Lincoln transfer Terry Ferrell with a 32-yard pass over the top of the Shelby defense that set the Knights up on the goal line. Beard capped the drive on the next play when he powered into the end zone from two yards out to put North Lincoln on the scoreboard.

The victory propels Shelby to a date at Hibriten on Friday, Dec. 7, and the winner of that contest will advance to the 2AA State Championship game the following weekend. The two teams clashed with a state championship berth on the line last year as well with Hibriten prevailing 19-7 in that contest.

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