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An electric crowd was fired up at Moretz Stadium on Saturday for something Lenoir-Rhyne hadnâ€™t done since 1962 â€” make a run at an NCAA Div. II National Championship.
The Bears (9-2) kept their ground game going, as they have done all season, tallying 243 rushing yards en route to a 21-6 opening round playoff win over Fort Valley State University (Ga.).
â€śHats off to Fort Valley Stateâ€ť said L-R head coach Mike Houston. â€śI am just so proud of our guys and how they played. I am proud of our coaches and happy for this school.â€ť
Running back Isaiah Whitaker churned 119 rushing yards on 25 carries for Lenoir-Rhyne, which had averaged 384.7 rushing yards a game this season.
The Bearsâ€™ defense also allowed only 92 yards on the ground.
Whitaker put the Bears up 7-0 with a 57-yard scoring run at the 8:14 mark of the opening quarter.
The first half was filled miscues by both teams in the kicking game.
Fort Valley State kicker Justin Rosenbaum tried to put the Wildcats (8-4) on the board, but his 54-yard field goal attempt was partially blocked by the Bearsâ€™ special teams unit.
L-Râ€™s Justin Powell, an East Burke product, also had an opportunity to extend the Bears lead with a field goal, but his kick sailed left, keeping the score at 7-0.
Rosenbaum would have another chance to redeem himself, but he missed another kick from 30 yards out to keep the score the same with 2:38 left in the half.
Powell had a chance to put his team up 10 points before the halftime break, but his 32-yarder was wide left. L-R led 7-0 at the half.
Lenoir-Rhyneâ€™s Jarrod Spears broke the game open in the second half, taking the opening kickoff 99 yards to the Wildcatsâ€™ one-yard line. However, Spears removed his helmet after the play, resulting in a penalty.
â€śI thought I had got inâ€ť Spears said of his kick return. â€śThatâ€™s why I took my helmet off.â€ť
Despite the penalty, the Bears added to their lead on a one-yard touchdown run by Whitaker with 11:34 left in the third quarter.
â€śWe all make each other betterâ€ť Whitaker said. â€śWe feed off each otherâ€™s success, and we want each of us to do well.â€ť
Defense helped put L-R up three touchdowns when defensive back Michael Green returned an interception of Fort Valley quarterback Antonio Henton 100 yards for a touchdown.
The Wildcats scored their only touchdown and the final score of the game with 9:57 left when Henton found receiver Stephen Stroman on an 11-yard strike.
Lenoir-Rhyne advances to the second round of the playoffs, where it gets another shot at rival and SAC foe Carson-Newman.
The Eagles beat the Bears, 47-23, on Sept. 29 in both teamâ€™s conference opener.
When Haynes was asked if he and his teammates are looking forward to a rematch with the Eagles, his response was clear and to the point.
â€śYes,â€ť he said. â€śOur goal is a national championship.â€ťView more articles in: