Since the arrival of head coach Mike Houston in Hickory, the Lenoir-Rhyne football team has ran the football down opponents collective throats — winning a South Atlantic Conference title in 2011 and yet another SAC title in 2012.
A trip to the playoffs this year — the first in Houston’s short two-year tenure and first in 50 years — featured last weekend’s crowd at Moretz Stadium witnessing history.
“We’re just bringing everyone together,” Houston said. “That’s what has been so special about this team and this season.”
One of the special things about the Bears’ season has been their offense, which has scored 388 points so far in 2012 — an average of 35.3 points a game and 4,090 total rushing yards.
Throw in 39 touchdowns, a 371.8 yards per game aver- age and 6.4 yards per carry, and what you have is the Lenoir-Rhyne football program at its best this season.
None of what has transpired on the offensive side of the football could have been accomplished, though, had it not been for the likes of quarterback Rueben Haynes and running backs Graham Duncan, Isaiah Whitaker and Jarrod Spears.
“These guys have just had an amazing season” Houston said. “The thing about these guys is simply that if you stop one guy, the other will step up and make the plays needed to win the game.”
That determination couldn’t have been any more evident than on Oct. 20 against Mars Hill. Trailing 21-3 in the third quarter, the Bears saw their season flash before their eyes.
However, Lenoir-Rhyne scored 31 unanswered points and didn’t allowed one score on defense in a 34-21 win against the Lions.
“They just stuck together and kept making plays, and we were able to find a way to win the game which was huge for us moving for- ward,” Houston said of that Mars Hill victory.
Haynes, a freshman signal-caller, came in with inspirations of getting to start.
After what started as a learning experience for Haynes early in his career, he finally got his break and tried to make his presence in the offense and SAC known.
He did just that by rushing for 670 yards and 10 TD runs, while passing for 467 yards on 22-of-48 attempts and six more scores.
Playing against Carson- Newman earlier this season, Haynes was frustrated watching from the sideline as his team fell 47-23 to the Eagles back on Sept. 29 in Jefferson City, Tenn.
Haynes said the Eagles’ offense differs from the Bears attack.
“A lot of schemes we get from schools like Georgia Southern or Army,” Haynes said. “They are similar, but compared to Carson- Newman, we are different.”
Houston, whose team faces the Eagles on the road in the second round of the Div. II playoffs Saturday, added that turnovers were the factor in Lenoir-Rhyne’s loss to Carson-Newman earlier this season.
“We turned the ball over there five times,” Houston said. “One of the turnovers resulted in them scoring. Two things are key going into this game — turnovers and better play defensively.”
Whitaker — hungry for another shot at Carson Newman — said the Bears are ready this time around with a chance to advance to the third round of the playoffs.
“With respect to them, they are great team,” he said. “They were better than us the last time, but this time, we are going to show them that we weren’t ourselves the last time and that we are in fact a better team”
Whitaker has accounted for 760 yards of offense this season, while his counter- part — Jarrod Spears — leads the team in rushing with 856 yards.
Spears talked about last season’s team winning the SAC, but more importantly the motivation to get back on the gridiron after missing out on the playoffs on a tiebreaker.
“We had a good season,” he said.“We wanted to keep playing. We should have gone to the playoffs, but we didn’t. We prepare and we work hard, which is why we have built a winning tradition.”
Haynes said that Graham Duncan, a junior running back for L-R who has accounted for 561 yards and four scores — is a special talent.
“Graham is incredible,”
Haynes said. “He can block anybody, catch the football and once he gets going, I don’t think anyone can catch him.”
Duncan said this week’s game against Carson-Newman is a statement game.
“We were disappointed the last time we played Carson-Newman, but this time, we are ready,” he said. “Reuben is the quiet leader, Isaiah is like a bowling ball and Jarrod is a breakout player capable of a lot of things.”
As Saturday nears, the Bears will look to make a statement of their own.
Houston said the bar is being set for the Bears’ football program in the future.
“We are establishing a football power and tradition, along with a family atmosphere,” he said.
Whitaker said he hopes that the rushing attack that has produced one of L-R’s most exciting playoff runs in recent memory will cer- tainly be talked about years from now.
“I am just so blessed to be here” he said. “I just hope people look back at this team and say this was the best Lenoir-Rhyne football team ever.”