Lincoln (0-1) sputtered offensively in the second half. The Patriots, who had just 198 yards total offense, got four more yards in the second half, 101, than they did in the first, but only broke the goal line one time.
Both teams struggled offensively for most of the third quarter, with the 21-14 margin intact until the final minute of the period. Rowan quarterback Adam Wing connected with Phillip Hodge for a 25-yard gain then Stephen Williamson broke around the left side on the next play and scooted 42 yards to the end zone to put the Vikings up 28-14 with 51 ticks showing.
“It’s pretty disappointing,” said Lincoln’s Matt Carrier, who led Lincoln with 55 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries. “We felt good about it being a 21-14 game at the half and then we didn’t do anything the third quarter.”
“Disappointing ... that’s all I can say.”
Lincoln stalled on its first series of the fourth quarter, going three-and-out.
But Rowan kept on rolling.
Wing, who went 9-for-10 through the air for 124 yards, proved he could do some damage on the ground as well, capping off a 4-play, 50-yard drive with a 16-yard scoring run. Wing, who rushed for 60 yards and three touchdowns, avoided a potential stop at the goal line with a spin move into the end zone to give Rowan a 35-14 lead.
Cross, the Viking’s Most Valuable player for the game, scored Rowan’s final touchdown midway of the fourth off a 68-yard run for a 42-14 margin.
“We’re better than that,” said Lincoln’s Brandon Graham, the Patriots’ MVP. “Everything that we saw we practiced on. Every play we saw out there, we saw in practice. We just didn’t play our football.”
“We felt like we had improved since last year and felt like we could come in and play our kind of football and we didn’t do it,” he said.
Although disheartened, Lincoln never threw in the towel.
The Patriots came back to get the final score of the game with 1:20 on the clock. The 10-play, 80-yard drive culminated in a 4-yard run by Lincoln quarterback Austin Hinds.
“That means a lot,” said Settles. “We will not quit on our players as a coaching staff. It’s important for us to send a message to our players to not quit. And they didn’t.”
The Patriots proved they weren’t quitters early in the ballgame after being hit by a wave of Viking offense.
Rowan took the opening kickoff and drove 51 yards, with Cross capping off the 7-play drive with a 25-yard TD.
Seven plays was also all Rowan needed to score on its second series. Wing connected with Cross for a 40-yard pass and with Phillip Hodge for a 24-yard gain to move the ball down to the Lincoln 1 then he carried it in to make it 14-0, Rowan, with 5:54 left in the first.
On a short kickoff, Hodge tried to regain possession for the Vikings by grabbing the ball out of the air. Initially, Rowan was given possession, however, the officials reversed their decision saying Hodge did not give Lincoln, which had called for a fair catch, the chance to catch the ball.
Lincoln took over at its own 47 and was on the move. Deon Shannon, who had 46 yards on 10 carries, went 33 yards for a first down and Hinds followed with a 15-yard run to the 5. Two plays later, Carrier carried it up the middle for a 2-yard score and a 14-7 ballgame.
The Vikings got back the seven points on their next possession, Rowan went 65 yards in 15 plays, with Wing carrying it over from the 12 to make it 21-7.
“We knew offensively they’d be tough to stop. Their quarterback is solid and their running game is good,” said Settles. “We thought we would have the advantage up front and that didn’t play out the way we’d hoped.”
Lincoln had to punt the ball on its next possession but the Patriot defense got the ball back by holding the Vikings on 4th-and-1. Lincoln took over at the Rowan 42 and was helped along by a 13-yard pass play from Hinds to Vinny Morris on 4th-and-3. Carrier was back in the end zone three plays later, scoring on a 6-yard run to get Lincoln within 21-14 at the half.
“We knew if Rowan County controlled the game offensively that we would be in trouble,” said Settles. “And they did for that first quarter and a half at least. But I felt like we started taking away that tempo and stopping them defensively.”
For Lincoln to succeed, Settles says the Patriot defense has to learn to respond consistently on every play.
“We’ve got to make sure we get 11 guys to the football defensively,” he said. “At times we do that, but some plays we don’t. We’ve got to work on our consistency if we’re going to get better.”