Brendan Shriver, Staff Writer
The Lenoir-Rhyne University Bears jumped out to a 31-7 lead in the third quarter, then withstood a furious rally from Wingate to hang on for a 31-24 victory. The Bears improve to 3-1 overall and 2-0 in the SAC, while the Bulldogs fall to 2-2 overall and 0-2 in league play.
“We’ve got a lot of fight, we’ve got good players, we just have to execute more consistently. There were plays throughout the game, in the first half in particular, that we just set ourselves back. You could feel the momentum change on the sideline in the third quarter and we just started executing better,” Wingate Head Football Coach Joe Reich says.
Some streaks were snapped for the Bulldogs. It’s the first time that Wingate has lost at Irwin Belk Stadium at night. The loss was also Wingate’s first to Lenoir-Rhyne in four years.
Wingate outgained LR 378-353 on the night, although most of those yards came during the rally. “Offensively, we’ve got to get it going early on and not wait to until the second half to get things started. But I love the fight, I love the energy, I love this group of guys. They’re high character guys and in the locker I just want to tell them, I love that fight, keep that up, let’s just execute consistently and we’ll be all right,” Reich says.
There were two key plays in the closing moments of the game when Wingate was trying to tie the game. The first play was a goal-line stand by the Bears on the one yard line. Had Wingate scored and kicked the extra point, the game would have been tied and could have gone to overtime or the Bulldogs could have had a chance to win it outright.
The other critical play was an interception by Wingate with three minutes left. This came just after the Bulldogs had recovered a fumble shortly after the goal line stand. Wingate got the ball back for one final shot at the tie and overtime, but couldn’t capitalize.
JT Stokes and Shaw Crocker led offensively for the Bulldogs. Stokes had seven catches for a career-high 186 yards and two touchdowns while Crocker completed 14-of-27 passes for a career-high 288 yards and two touchdowns and ran for a score.
“With JT it’s about the execution, but it’s also the leadership on the field as well. It’s the things you don’t see, the rallying the troops, it’s his presence out there. He’s a great leader,” Reich says.
Defensively, Cardell Rawlings had a huge game to lead Wingate. Rawlings piled up 14 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and two QB hurries. Rawlings has 11.5 TFLs and 8.0 sacks on the year.
“There’s nobody more passionate. We talk about having a fierce desire, and that encapsulates Cardell Rawlings, just a fierce desire to win, a fierce desire to be the best and a fierce desire to prepare. It’s all emotion and intensity and passion, that’s who he is as a person, so it was good to see him have another big game,” Reich says.
Wingate is at home again next week, hosting Florida Tech at 3:00 p.m.
Edited by Brendan Shriver