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No happy homecoming: Lincoln falls to South Laurel

STANFORD — The  Lincoln County football team has had its share of struggles on the gridiron this season and Death Valley Stadium has been anything but a home-field advantage for the Patriots.

And not even homecoming could put an end to the team’s woes as the Patriots were handed a 42-35 loss by South Laurel on Friday night, dropping Lincoln to 1-4 at home and 1-8 overall.

Lincoln led its homecoming game 35-28 with one quarter left to play. The Patriots had the ball inside the Cardinals’ 35-yard line only to lose possession on downs midway through the fourth quarter, and South Laurel needed just one play to erase the lead. Quarterback Jared Grubb hit Jerred Lovins for a 64-yard touchdown pass to tie the game with 6 minutes, 10 seconds to remaining, then as the final seconds of the game ticked away, he connected with Lovins for passes of 27 and 20 yards and rushed for six yards before taking the ball in from the 10 to give the Cardinals (4-5, 1-2 district) the win.

Grubb was South Laurel’s workhorse in the game, amassing 367 yards offense with six touchdowns. He rushed for 177 yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries and went 9-for-15 for 190 passing yards and three TD passes.

“No. 21 (Grubb) is an unbelievable athlete, one of the better athletes we’ve played this year,” Lincoln coach Travis Leffew said. “He, by himself, hurt us a lot.”

As good as Grubb was, Leffew said Lincoln has no one but itself to blame for the loss.

“(Grubb has) got great players around him so we can’t take anything away from South Laurel, but we also gave them a lot,” he said. “We put the ball on the ground six times, lost four of them and lose by seven. We talked to the guys at halftime. We’re down 21-14 and, really, we gave them the 21 points. Defensively, we’re not playing very aggressive. We’re in position to make plays. You can tell that by looking at the field and looking at film. There’s just no aggressiveness. We’ve got to figure out what it’s going to take to get over that hump because right now what we’re doing is we’re beating ourselves in every aspect of the game.”

It didn’t take long for a Lincoln miscue to rear its head in the district matchup.

On Lincoln’s second possession of the game, senior quarterback Tanner McAninch was picked off by South Laurel’s Ace Allen, setting up the Cardinals at their own 46. The interception proved costly as three plays later, Lovins, who had five catches for 142 yards and two touchdowns, notched his first scoring pass, a 9-yard reception, to give the Cards a 6-0 lead.

Lincoln, which fumbled its next possession away, would right itself on its fourth drive. A shanked punt by South’s Jacob Christensen set the Patriots up at the Cardinals’ 19. Tra Carey, who went over 1,000 yards Friday with 142 yards and two touchdowns on 34 carries, handled the ball on the drive, capping it off with a 2-yard run. Emma Kaiser’s point after kick edged Lincoln ahead 7-6.

Carey tallied TD number two on Lincoln’s next possession. Carey and McAninch, who led the Patriot ground game with 211 yards on 27 carries, took turns carrying the ball on the 53-yard, eight-play drive, with Carey scoring from 2-yards out to extend the Lincoln lead to 14-6 with 6:00 left in the first half.

However, the lead would belong to South at the break.

After getting the ball on downs at their own 31 with 3:40 on the clock, the Cards needed just seven plays to reach the goal line. Matt Harp, who finished with 66 yards on 12 carries, had an 18-yard first-down run in the series, but Grubb was making the big gains, rushing for 27 yards and hitting Lovins for a 22-yard pass before tallying from the 2-yard line. Grubb then punched in the two-point conversion run to deadlock the game at 14-14 with 2:15 left on the clock.

The South Laurel offense was back on the field just one play after the score. Lincoln was in good field position after Josh Salyers’ kickoff return to the Cards’ 40, but the Patriots fumbled the ball away on their first play from the line of scrimmage. After first-down runs by Harp (2) and Grubb and a penalty first-down, Grubb threw an 11-yard TD pass to Matthew Dalton to put the Cards up 21-14 with just 24.6 ticks left in the half.

South Laurel got the ball to start the second half and Grubb threw to Harp on the first play. But Harp fumbled the ball and Lincoln was on the march to the end zone, taking over at its own 34. The 66-yard, seven-play drive, which included a 44-yard run by McAninch, culminated in a 1-yard run up the middle by the Lincoln senior to tie the game again.

And the trading of scores would continue.

Grubb put up a 7-yard scoring run at the 4:07 mark of the third quarter to put the Cards back on top. Then, two minutes later, McAninch followed up a 19-yard pass play to Salyers with a 40-yard run to the end zone to make it 28-28 . Two minutes later, McAninch would break the tie when he threw to David Brock in the end zone. Kaiser’s kick made it 35-28.

There was no trading of touchdowns in the fourth quarter, though, as South closed with its 14-0 run to claim the win.

“So many ups and downs in the game,” Leffew said. “We come out in the second half, get the ball off a turnover and get a touchdown. We go up and you think the momentum’s there and then all of a sudden the letdown happens defensively. And the aspect of we’re in the right place, we’re just not aggressive. We’ve got to be able to capitalize on stuff and take advantage. We’ve got to figure out what it’s going to take to find some aggression.

“The biggest challenge for this team is themselves,” he said. “I talk to the guys every day about how good they can be, how good they are and what they have to do to get to the next level. But we’re not aggressive. We’ve got to figure out what it’s going to take now to be aggressive or Rockcastle is going to come in here and pummel us next week.”