North Lenoir defeats East Columbus in season opener
North Lenoir’s Ny’Jai Koonce follows his blockers during Friday’s game against East Columbus. Photo by William ‘Bud’ Hardy / Neuse News
LA GRANGE — The flight was certainly respected Friday.
North Lenoir defeated East Columbus 20-6 to pick up its first win in the Jim Collins era. The Hawks (1-0) snapped an 11-game losing streak and won its first season-opener since a 48-34 victory over Richlands on Aug. 22, 2008.
“Our kids bought into what we were doing here,” North Lenoir coach Jim Collins said. “Our backs had great fakes and our line was really solid (on offense and) our defense, we bent but we were good when we had to be.”
After recovering an onside kick to start the game, the Hawks went 50 yards in nine plays, capped off by a 9-yard touchdown from Ny’Jai Koonce. East Columbus made it to the North Lenoir 9 on its ensuing drive, but after Jamar Williams was hit for a 1-yard loss, the Gators had three straight incompletions to turn the ball over on downs early in the second. North Lenoir went on a 9-minute drive that didn’t put points on the board, but East Columbus could only ran three plays before halftime.
The Gators responded in the third quarter, traveling 56 yards in seven plays. Lavarr Jones’ 7-yard run brought East Columbus within 7-6 after a botched extra point, but North Lenoir went on another long drive — this one ending in a 1-yard quarterback keeper from Filipo Sualevai to put the Hawks ahead 14-6 late in the frame.
East Columbus moved the ball inside the North Lenoir 25, but turned the ball over on downs again with 6:29 remaining. North Lenoir’s Jaden Kilpatrick immediately ran for 30 yards and four plays later, Koonce scored from 30 yards out.
“There’s nothing better than a win,” Koonce said. “We’ve been putting in the hard work every day, came out successful and I think we can do some good things this year.
“On that last touchdown, I just cut back in and made a play. I give it up to my boys up front — if it wasn’t for them, the rushing yards wouldn’t be possible.”
East Columbus would have one more chance, but Logan Bigler recovered a fumble for North Lenoir with 1:53 remaining to end the game.
“We started the first half strong and kept our feet on their throat the whole time,” Hawks lineman Chris Russell said. “The second half came and we gave up that early touchdown — after that, I told the guys to tighten up. We had to stay hungry and from there, the energy was on another level. If we keep that dog mentality throughout the season, no team can beat us.”
North Lenoir travels to face Farmville Central Aug. 30.
NORTH LENOIR 20, EAST COLUMBUS 6
EC 0 0 6 0 — 6
NL 7 0 7 6 — 20
NL — Ny’Jai Koonce 9 run (Trey Kivett kick), 6:39
EC — Lavarr Jones 7 run (kick failed), 7:38
NL — Filipo Sualevai 1 run (Kivett kick), 1:27
NL — Koonce 30 run (kick failed), 3:46
First Downs 13 14
Rushes 28-173 35-256
Passing 0-4-0 0-0-0
Passing Yards 0 0
Total Yards 173 256
Punts 0-0 1-36.0
Fumbles 2-1 3-0
Penalties 5-40 6-40
RUSHING — East Columbus: Jamar Williams 10-97, Curtis Watson 10-39, Fisher Reaves 3-20, Lavarr Jones 4-13, Camron Jacobs 1-4. North Lenoir: Jaden Kilpatrick 11-100, Ny’Jai Koonce 9-97, Savion White 4-25, Filipo Sualevai 9-17, Malik Jones 2-17.
PASSING — East Columbus: Reaves 0-4-0, 0. North Lenoir: None.
RECEIVING — None.