From the opening kick-off of the season’s opening game it became quickly clear that turnovers would play a big role in Maiden’s contest against North Lincoln.
In fact after Maiden fumbled the game’s opening kick-off, it appeared the turnover battle would bounce the way of the Blue Devils’ visiting opponent.
However, between one interception by Richard Kerekes and ensuing 44-yard return that set up a Maiden touchdown before half-time and a third quarter interception by Alex Lomax that set up another Blue Devil score, the home team was able to turn the turnover tide in their favor.
Add 234 yards passing and three touchdowns, as well as another rushing touchdown by Maiden quarterback Matt Johnson, and the Blue Devils were able to cruise to a 40-13 victory.
“We weren’t real happy with the turnovers,” said Maiden Coach Brian Brown. “That’s one of the things we’ve concentrated on — not turning the ball over, but you know, we got 40 points in all, and we just tried to bend a little, but not break on defense.”
While the Knights offense were able to move the ball well, their own turnovers and Maiden’s defense killed North Lincoln drives. After North Lincoln recovered Maiden’s fumbled kick-off return deep in Devils territory, the home team held the Knights on four straight plays and kept the visitors off the scoreboard.
Then Maiden engineered an 11-play, 74-yard scoring drive that was capped by a four-yard touchdown run by Nate Johnson. After the failed PAT, Maiden led 6-0.
North Lincoln’s ensuing drive stalled inside the Maiden 10-yard line when the Knights fumbled and Maiden’s Holden Cox recovered possession for the Blue Devils. From there, Maiden went on the march again, this time putting together a 12-play, 92-yard drive that found the end zone. Johnson passed to Cox for a 23-yard touchdown, and Maiden took a 13-0 lead with 3:54 remaining in the first quarter.
“He is obviously a great leader for or team,” Cox said of Maiden’s junior quarterback. “He has been doing good during practice, and if he keeps it up, we are going to go far.”
Cox finished the night with two touchdowns and 64 yards receiving on three catches.
“It felt good,” he said. “We have been practicing hard and working hard week to week, and we played good tonight.”
North Lincoln answered with a two-yard touchdown by Dillon Tucker, to stay in the contest, however, Maiden’s offense wasn’t slowed by the Knights’ points. Nate Johnson scored his second touchdown of the contest on a three-yard run that finished an eight-play, 80-yard drive, and gave the Blue Devils a 20-7 advantage.
Late in the opening half, Maiden was poised to strike again when North Lincoln’s punter lost control of a snap, tried to kick the ball off the ground and was penalized for illegal touching. A quick fumble gave North Lincoln a chance to fight back into the game before intermission.
The Knights put together a productive drive until Maiden’s Kerekes intercepted a pass by North Lincoln’s Tyler Lawing and returned it 44 yards with less than a minute left in the first half. Cox then caught a 25-yard pass from Matt Johnson and fought his way into the end zone with three seconds left in the opening half, giving Maiden a 26-7 halftime lead.
“Its just everybody wanting the same thing,” Maiden’s quarterback said. “We are all just pulling in the same direction. We had to get down the field and we did. We have got a pretty solid offense, but we are going to have to play defense more than anything. We are going to have to hit people in the mouth, and that’s what we will do.”
Early in the second half Lomax intercepted another Lawing pass, and returned it 68 yards to set up another touchdown, this time on the heels of Matt Johnson, who rushed four yards to score. For the night, he finished with 84 yards rushing. Nate Johnson rushed for 58 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries.
Maiden’s Hassan Hopper caught a 32-yard pass late in the contest to give Maiden a 40-7 margin until the game’s closing stages.
“We think (Matt) has worked extremely hard, and I think the guys up front did a good job, and he made good decisions tonight and that is key for him,” Brown said. “It is early, and this is only one game. We have got to get better and hopefully we can keep working and do that.”
Maiden travels to Fred T. Foard next week.