Gallery by Brian Ferguson
SUMMERSVILLE – Last season Lincoln needed a miracle to knock off Nicholas County.
This year no miracle was needed, just the outstanding play of wide receiver, John Lopez.
The senior standout hauled in seven catches on the night, but three of them went for backbreaking scores to lead the Cougars past the Grizzlies, 21-13 in a clash of top-10 Class AA teams.
“This was a huge win. Nicholas has been playing well and I expect them to win a a lot of games this year,” Lincoln head coach Rob Hawkins said. “If we want to get in the playoffs, we have to get some bonus points somewhere. Nicholas is a very well coached team and I thought this was a great football game and a great team effort by our guys.”
Leading 13-7 after Wes Hill broke the halftime tie by returning the second half kickoff 94 yards for a score, Nicholas had a chance to apply the knockout blow.
However, after driving the ball to the Cougars five-yard line, the Grizzlies self-destructed. A bad snap was followed by an interception by David Burdette in the end zone stopped the touchdown bid.
“The momentum switched immediately,” Nicholas County head coach Gene Morris said. “The next series or so, they were up 14-13. We had opportunities; we just didn’t finish them.”
Two series later, Lopez made the play of the game to put his team in the lead for good.
After a mishandled snap on a punt by Nicholas, the Cougars faced third-and nine from the Nicholas 24-yard line. Nick Kellar dropped back and launched a pass down the middle of the field towards the end zone.
Although the play looked well covered, Lopez outdueled the defenders for the go-ahead score.
“Johnny is not the biggest kid in the world, but he did a great job high-pointing the ball and came down with it,” Hawkins said.
“We got a big shot in the arm with the opening second-half kickoff, but we didn’t do anything after that,” Morris said. “We let a couple of long passes get to us. We had guys there, they just made better plays than us.”
Lopez still had one more incredible grab in his bag of tricks.
A sack from Alex Pritt placed Lincoln in a fourth-and-11 situation at the Nicholas 32-yard line.
Keller rolled right against his body and fired a dart to Lopez who made a sliding over the shoulder grab against the sideline for a 21-13 lead.
“They had the big kickoff return to start the second half, but I thought Johnny Lopez made some big catches for us tonight,” Hawkins said. “We knew if we weren’t going to be able to run the ball, our receivers would have to make plays. Johnny had two great catches in the second half. The last of which was just a terrific catch.”
While the Nicholas County offense did a solid job of moving the ball at times, it could not fully take advantage of its scoring chances.
“We played well enough to win at times, but other times we played poorly. We just have to get back to a few more fundamental things. We shot ourselves in the foot several times,” Morris said. “We got the ball down inside the 20 three times and came away with nothing. That is not going to be a winning formula.”
“Our defense came up big when it had to,” Hawkins said. “They had a couple of plays we had trouble defending and they would break off chunks of yardage, but our defense would bow its neck and get a stop.”
Lopez’s seven catches totaled 123 yards, while Kellar threw for 219 yards.
Kaleb Clark continued his strong running for the Grizzlies with 155 yards on 21 carriers. Clark also had two grabs for 39 yards, including an acrobatic catch in the end zone for Nicholas’s first score.
“We didn’t play as focused as we have the first two ball games. Hopefully we can refocus ourselves and do a little bit better the rest of the season,” Morris said. “I think we still have a fairly solid football team; we just can’t beat ourselves.”
Nicholas County (2-1) looks to rebound when it hosts Wyoming East, Sept. 24.
L (3-0): 0 7 7 7 – 21
NC (2-1): 0 7 6 0 – 13
NC: Kaleb Clark 15 pass from Brycen Morriston (Brayden Short kick)
L: John Lopez 5 pass from Nick Kellar (Liam Gallegher)
NC: Wes Hill 94 kick return (kick no good)
L: Lopez 24 pass from Kellar (Gallegher kick)
L: Lopez 32 pass from Kellar (Gallegher kick)
Rushing: (L) Antwan Hilliars 16-34, Levi Moore 6-13, Kellar 5-13, David Budette 1-8; (NC) Clark 21-155, Pritt 7-68, Brycen Morriston 11-19, Colton Browning 3-11.
Passing: (L) Kellar 16-24-219-3-0; (NC) Morriston 3-12-47-0-2, Dawson Brown 2-5-13-0-0
Recieving: (L) Lopez 7-123-3, Jayce Brooks 2-53, Westin Heldreth 2-53, Moore 2-11; (NC) Clark 2-39-1, Hill 3-21