PUMPKIN CENTER – When the schedules were made before football season, few probably expected the finale between Bandys and North Lincoln to determine the South Fork 2A champion.
Last season, North Lincoln was 2-9 overall and 1-6 in conference, while Bandys finished with 5-7 and 3-4 records. But each with a new head coach, the Knights and Trojans are undefeated in the South Fork, having lost a combined three games all season.
A North Lincoln win in the game moved to Saturday, Nov. 3, would be the first conference title in school history.
“I just know our kids are in position to do something that hasn’t been done before,” North Lincoln coach Nick Bazzle said.
While Bandys shut out Lake Norman Charter Oct. 27, Bazzle’s Knights are coming off a tight win over Lincolnton. North Lincoln trailed the 2-8 Wolves by four early in the fourth quarter, but rushing touchdowns by quarterback Landon Beard and Clayton Cribb secured a 36-26 victory.
Both teams rely on the option offense and have a combined five of the top 10 rushers in the conference – including both quarterbacks.
“If you like option football, we’re mirror images of each other,” Bazzle said. “Their reflection is just a lot bigger than ours.”
Bandys senior running back, or B-back, Ethan Howard has more than 1,500 yards and has scored 16 touchdowns, both leading the conference. But North Lincoln’s Cribb is a 1,000-yard rusher himself. And teammate Jake Soorus has more than 800 yards, averaging more yards per carry than Howard or Cribb.
Tale of the Tape
|2018 Record||8-2 (6-0)||9-1 (6-0)|
|2017 Record||2-9 (1-6)||5-7 (3-4)|
Noting how the Bandys players are bigger across the board, Bazzle said Cribb has the kind of size that matches up with the Trojans.
“It’ll be the battle of the two big B-backs,” he said.
But even in the run-heavy offenses, the passing game can still play a vital role.
“Both of us have the ability to throw,” Bazzle said. “Their quarterback is a really tall kid, and he moves well and has a strong arm.”
Bandys’ Lake Hojnacki has only thrown 50 passes all year, but when one is completed, it’s usually for big yardage. Elijah Clarke leads the team in touchdown catches and averages 26 yards per reception.
Trojans coach Tom Eanes said he likes to reward his receivers for blocking as often as they do.
“Our receivers actually get to score some touchdowns,” he said. “Some teams throw the ball all over the place, but some receivers don’t get to score.”
And of running the ball for most of the game: “It might be boring to somebody, but I really enjoy it.”
New, yet familiar
Though Bazzle and Eanes are new to their respective schools, they have previous ties to the area.
Bazzle coached Newton-Conover from 1999-2011, winning a state title in 2008, and he grew up in the Pumpkin Center community, attending East Lincoln. He remembers his first year at Newton-Conover going 5-5.
And Eanes’ first head coaching job was with the Mustangs in 1986 – he started running the option a year later.
After coming back to the west side of the lake after a stint at Burke County’s Patton High, Eanes is appreciative of his players and of all the support he’s received.
“I’m just thankful with this group of kids, and the community has been really supportive,” he said. “These kids have really done a remarkable job.”