Lincolnton ends Maiden's season

Maiden appeared poised to pull a playoff comeback for the second straight week.

Down 21-7 at halftime and held in check on offense, the Blue Devils weren’t out, but they were down.

“It was the same as Polk County. I hate to say we came out flat,” said Maiden senior quarterback Matt Johnson. “But we battled back.”

At Polk County last week, Maiden trailed 21-14 at halftime before winning 41-27.

This week, the come-from-behind story didn’t end the same as No. 1 seed Lincolnton (13-1) ended Maiden’s season with a 34-21 loss in the sectional round of the N.C. 2A state playoffs.

“We came back in it,” said Maiden coach Brian Brown. “We made a game of it. They are good football team, but I am proud of our kids ... it is still a loss.”

Facing a 14-point halftime deficit, Maiden exploded from the locker room and scored a quick 14 unanswered to tie the game late in the third quarter.

The Blue Devils scored on a 10-play, 68-yard drive to open the second half. Johnson connected with Will Jenkins on a 21-yard touchdown pass to narrow Maiden’s deficit.

“We decided not to give up,” Johnson said. “We wanted to go in there and give it our best and play a good game.”

Moments later, Maiden’s Dakota Painter intercepted a Patrick Randleman pass and returned it 15 yards.

With good field position, the Blue Devils marched toward the goal line. Johnson scored on a three-yard bull run, after he connected with Will Jenkins on a key fourth down passing play that kept the drive alive.

With 3:53 left in the game, the Blue Devils tied it, 21-21.

Lincolnton took the ensuing possession on a 13-play, 75-yard drive that consumed 6:20 off the clock. Randleman scored on a five-yard run to put the Wolves ahead for good.

On Maiden’s ensuing possession, Lincolnton’s Jonathan Gidney intercepted a Matt Johnson pass. Twelve plays and 5:36 later, the Wolves scored again.

“We wanted this one bad,” Johnson said. “I think the better team won tonight.They were better than us, but we wanted it more.”

Johnson finished the night with 76 rushing yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. He tossed a touchdown to Jenkins and passed for 64 total yards in the air, but he was also intercepted three times.

Lincolnton scored on its first possession after Jalen Littlejohn returned the opening kick-off 44 yards. Wolves’ senior Michael Cunningham scored on a two-yard run to finish an eight-play, 33-yard drive.

The Wolves carried the lead late into the first quarter, with both teams’ defenses slugging it out. Maurice Ikard stripped Randleman inside the Maiden 20, and Alex White brought the ball out of a pile-up to stop one Lincolnton drive.

The Blue Devils couldn’t convert the turnover into points, but after an ensuing three-and-out defensive stop, Maiden’s Jenkins went to work.

He scored on a 85-yard touchdown streak to tie the game at the end of the first quarter.

Lincolnton answered quickly with a trick play. Lincolnton used an end-around pass play for Jalen Littlejohn to connect with Joe Gidney on a 61-yard touchdown strike.

The Wolves defense stuffed Maiden’s ensuing possession, and a 13-yard punt by Johnson started a Lincolnton drive at the Blue Devil 30. Dee Littlejohn scored five plays later on a one-yard plunge. He finished the game with 169 yards and a score on 26 carries. Randleman added another 107 yards and two touchdown runs on 18 carries. The score put Lincolnton ahead 21-7 going into halftime.

Maiden’s Jenkins finished the game with 12 carries for 112 yards and a touchdown. Johnson rushed 21 times for 84 yards and a scoring run.

“The whole group, they have been a fun group to be around,” Brown said. “We have been at it along time. It has been a long season, and these guys have hung together and they have enjoyed it. That is the best thing ... It was fun.”

Maiden ends the season 9-5.