The Lenoir-Rhyne football team has looked dominant at times this season, but on Saturday afternoon the Bears put together perhaps their sharpest performance of the year in a 63-6 homecoming win over UVa-Wise at Moretz Stadium.
L-R scored four touchdowns in the first seven minutes and led 49-0 at halftime on the way to its fifth straight double-digit victory to begin the season. The Bears improved to 5-0 overall and 3-0 in the South Atlantic Conference, while the visiting Cavaliers dropped to 1-4 and 0-3 following their first-ever game against L-R.
“We’ve got the best small college atmosphere in the country,” L-R coach Drew Cronic said. “It’s so fun to play here, people care and it’s really awesome. With our facility and all the things going on with the people, we’re really blessed.
“I thought we played about as sharp as we’ve ever played today because we’re not 57 points better than that team and a lot of things went our way,” he continued. “… I thought we were very sharp offensively early and then we were able to play a lot of kids, which is great, so it was a good day.”
The Bears wasted little time getting on the board, receiving the opening kickoff and moving 72 yards in three plays. Following Jace Jordan’s 43-yard TD run, L-R led 7-0 just over a minute into the first quarter.
Senior safety Kyle Dugger recorded the next score for the Bears, returning a punt 68 yards for a TD at the 11:52 mark. Then, after a 38-yard TD pass from Grayson Willingham to Dareke Young on L-R’s next possession, Dugger added a 67-yard punt return for a score to put the hosts up 28-0 with 8:29 left in the opening period.
“It was really a breath of fresh air for me, just being able to know that I can really give my team an advantage early on,” said Dugger of his two punt returns for TDs. “And I know that helped a lot of the guys get rolling because of the momentum factor and they really look at me as an older guy. I think I really helped the team just get into a groove early on and that was great for them.”
“He’s so much fun to watch,” added Cronic of Dugger, who recorded two punt returns for TDs in a game for the second straight season. “I was hoping he was gonna get a chance to get loose today just to have an opportunity. I would never punt him the ball, so I hope people keep doing that.”
L-R notched three more TDs in the second quarter, scoring on a 7-yard pass from Willingham to Jordan, a 9-yard run from Young and a 1-yard run from Ryan Carter to give the Bears a seven-score advantage at the half.
The Cavs scored to begin the second half, driving 70 yards in 15 plays and putting the ball across the goal line on a 4-yard TD pass from Lendon Redwine to Seth Phillips. UVa-Wise attempted a 2-point conversion, but Redwine’s pass fell incomplete to leave the deficit at 49-6.
The Bears tacked on two more TDs from there, with Tre Luttrell hauling in a 4-yard TD pass from Gunnar Anderson at the 4:55 mark of the third quarter and Joshua Stewart scoring from 2 yards out with 5:33 remaining in the fourth.
“We had a really different week of practice,” said Dugger. “We kind of had some ups and downs, but the whole time we were pretty focused on everything, really trying to get better, really working to get better, and I think as we continue to get going it’s gonna continue to be that way.
“This week we really were focused on getting better and making sure we did what we were supposed to do with a high effort,” he continued. “And so I think everybody brought it out to the field today. Everybody was crisp, our d-line continued to dominate and our linebackers continued to dominate.”
Speaking of defense, L-R’s Quentin Hayes, Myles Jackson and Jaquan Artis each registered a sack. Hayes led the way with seven tackles (6 solo), while Clayton Horn and Javoris Smith added interceptions to give the Bears four multi-interception games this fall.
Willingham completed 5 of 7 passes for 91 yards and two TDs in limited action, giving him 10 TD passes this season and 37 for his career, just two shy of breaking L-R’s all-time record. Young caught two passes for 61 yards and a score, while Jordan carried six times for 85 yards and a TD to pace the Bears’ ground attack.
L-R travels to Tusculum next Saturday at 1:30 p.m.