Ameen Stevens

Lenoir-Rhyne's Ameen Stevens (45) runs the ball up the middle during the Bears' game against Newberry on Saturday, Sept. 21, in Hickory.

Lenoir-Rhyne head football coach Drew Cronic enjoys coaching his team each and every week, especially when it comes to home games. But there’s a little extra motivation for any squad when it plays on homecoming.

“Every Saturday at Lenoir-Rhyne is special,” said Cronic. “Obviously homecoming will have maybe a little extra spice on it, but it’s so much fun … for our kids to play in front of such a great crowd and to see how much it means to everyone.

“I know how much it means to me, I know how much I enjoy coaching at home here,” he continued. “So we’re blessed, we’re truly blessed here.”

L-R (4-0, 2-0 South Atlantic Conference) has won all nine of its home games since Cronic took over last year, eight of them by double digits. Additionally, the Bears collected a 63-17 win over Limestone in last season’s homecoming game, but this year a new challenge awaits them.

Kickoff for today’s homecoming contest against UVa-Wise is set for 2 p.m. at Moretz Stadium, with Cronic discussing the game during the Bears’ weekly Facebook Live show on Tuesday evening.

“They will be the best defensive team we’ve played so far and that was a little bit surprising,” said Cronic of the Cavaliers, who face L-R for the first time ever after joining the SAC this season. “But my evaluation of them on film was they play hard, they’ve got some guys, they do a nice job coaching them, so that will be a big challenge for our offense. I think it’s the best defensive team we’ve seen to this point this fall.”

UVa-Wise has 10 takeaways thus far, including five interceptions and five fumble recoveries. Junior defensive backs Marquis Hamilton and Demetrius Mann each have two picks, while sophomore Logan Jenkins has the other interception and five different players have a fumble recovery.

“They have played good defense, they’ve played people tough,” said Cronic. The Cavs have lost three straight since a season-opening win over Chowan and are 0-2 in SAC play, but one of those losses was to FCS program Tennessee Tech, which is 4-1.

Offensively, UVa-Wise is led by sophomore running back Terrence Lambert, who has 49 carries for 216 yards and a touchdown. Fellow sophomore J’Quan Anderson has added 44 carries for 130 yards and a score.

The sophomore quarterbacking duo of Tanner Bernard (398 passing yards, 3 TDs) and Garrett Cropp (196 passing yards, 1 TD) have seen the bulk of the playing time under center for the Cavs. Meanwhile, sophomore wide receiver Jamal Fisher (12 catches for 121 yards) and sophomore tight end Seth Phillips (11 catches for 92 yards and 1 TD) have been their top targets in the passing game.

“They’re big and physical up front,” added Cronic of UVa-Wise’s offensive line. “They’ve got a back, they’ve got a couple receivers, their quarterback’s a good player, so this’ll prevent some challenges for us this weekend.”

The Bears also can’t shoot themselves in the foot like they did last week. L-R committed 10 penalties totaling 121 yards in a 56-28 road win at Mars Hill last Saturday, with Cronic terming some of those infractions “selfish penalties.”

“We’ve got to be accountable,” he said. “There’s hustle penalties and then there’s selfish penalties, and we had a few selfish penalties in the game and we’re gonna get that corrected. … I want us to play hard enough and physical enough to where every once in a while we do get a 15-yard penalty because we’re playing so hard, but it’s the selfish penalties that aren’t smart that we’ve got to eliminate.”

L-R redshirt junior quarterback Grayson Willingham played well again against Mars Hill, completing 12 of 20 passes for 277 yards and three TDs. Junior running back Jace Jordan added 15 carries for 159 yards and two scores, while junior wide receiver Dareke Young finished with five receptions for 108 yards and a TD.

But the biggest standout was junior safety Eric Jackson, who received several awards including National Defensive Player of the Week. The Charleston, South Carolina, native finished with three interceptions and a team-high 10 total tackles (3 solo) to lead another strong defensive performance for the Bears.

“When your team is doing well, there’s a lot of individual awards that are gonna occur, so it just means that people are taking notice of our program,” said Cronic. “Our team is being successful and when that’s happening guys are gonna get recognized individually, and rightfully so, because they’re doing a good job.”

L-R looks to win back-to-back homecoming contests for the first time since winning four straight from 2011-14 as it continues its historic 100th season of football.

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