Thomasville faces formidable Lincolnton in state semifinals


Thomasville's Shaquan Johnson makes a run as Salisbury's Paris Jones can only watch during their 2-A state playoff game in Thomasville on Friday. (Photo by Donnie Roberts/The Dispatch)



It can easily be said that Thomasville's football team is running a gauntlet in the 2-A state playoffs. Each week it gets tougher.



And now the toughest test of all is Friday night in the semifinals as the Bulldogs travel to Lincolnton. That's 13-1 Lincolnton, winners of 12 straight and averaging 44.5 points a game.

"They're very good," said Thomasville offensive coordinator Dickie Cline. "They're fast, similar in some ways to Salisbury. Offensively, they're a lot like Salisbury in that they run the triple option. Outstanding fullback. Outstanding quarterback. A lot of team speed. It's definitely going to be a big challenge for us."

Lincolnton might be feeling the same way.

Thomasville senior tailback Shaquan Johnson leads the state with 3,083 yard rushing and he has at least one more admirer.

"He's special," said Lincolnton coach Scott Cloninger. "He's a special athlete. He's got such a quick change of pace. He can stop and go on a dime. And I'd hate to see him when he's a hundred percent. They tell me he's a little banged up. He must be a tough guy. I watched him limp off the field and then come right back in, going 70 yards, outrunning everybody.

"He's got to be one of the premier backs in the state of North Carolina."

Lincolnton advanced to the semifinals by beating Brevard 49-14, Draughn 42-14 and Maiden 34-21. The only blemish on the Wolves' record was a 34-21 loss to South Point in the second week of the season.

Thomasville (10-4) downed Surry Central 56-26, Wilkes Central 28-16 and Salisbury 27-16 to reach Friday's showdown.

The potential is there for a high-scoring game as both teams have multiple weapons.

Johnson gets the lion's share of carries out of Thomasville's I-formation attack. He has 40 total touchdowns. Backup tailback Quindale Williams, who is also an important defensive player, has 431 yards and five touchdowns on the ground, 20 catches for 391 yards and four TDs, and a punt return TD. Sophomore quarterback Shakeem Peterson has thrown for 1,084 yards and 10 touchdowns with a county-best quarterback rating of 133.9. Wide receiver Sharaun Mouzone, who is playing with a broken right hand, has caught 22 passes for 420 yards and is an excellent blocker.

Thomasville's approach of pounding the football with Johnson and mixing in a few play action passes has worked well.

"That is what we do," Cline said. "It is who we are. When the opponent starts crowding the box, we like to take advantage of an overaggressive secondary and play action pass. That's just what we do."

Lincolnton gets the next chance at trying to stop Johnson and the Bulldogs.

"You just try to slow him down," Cloninger said. "You're not going to stop the Johnson kid. There's just no way. What you try to do is keep him from hitting a bunch of home runs, in my opinion. Hopefully, we can contain him every once in a while."

Johnson, who first suffered a high ankle sprain in the second half against Surry Central in the first round, is being held back some in practice to give the injury a chance to heal, Cline said.

Thomasville head coach Allen Brown is a defensive specialist who has even been a defensive coordinator at the college level. Chances are Brown hasn't dealt with an offense any more potent than that of the Wolves and their option-oriented double wing.

Lincolnton is led by Shrine Bowl fullback Dee Littlejohn and quarterback Patrick Rendleman. The 6-foot-1, 218-pound Littlejohn has rushed for 1,807 yards and 32 touchdowns. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Rendleman has rushed for 867 yards and 18 touchdowns and thrown for 872 yards and 12 TDs.

The Bulldogs had trouble with Central Davidson's double wing but Cloninger said there are major differences.

"Central Davidson's is more power running and misdirection," Cloninger said. "We run a true triple option."

That means the Bulldogs will have to be on their toes every play. Salisbury's triple option gouged Thomasville for 240 yards in the first half last Friday before the Bulldogs adjusted in the second half.

The difference between the teams could come down to who does a better job of holding onto the ball.

"I think whoever makes the fewest mistakes will win this ball game," Cloninger said. "I think it's two quality teams. When you get to the fourth round, everybody is good."

It goes without saying that Cline feels the same.

"I agree," Cline said. "For us, it's about protecting the football. Obviously, defensively you've got to stop the triple option and prevent the big play."

The winner of Friday's game will take on the Tarboro-South Columbus winner for the 2-A state championship at 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 3 at N.C. State's Carter-Finley Stadium.

Mike Duprez can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 218 or mike.duprez@the-dispatch.com.