NEWTON — Newton-Conover’s football team closed out the 2019 regular season in style on Senior Night at Gurley Stadium. The Red Devils made it clear early there was no letdown on their sideline after last week’s double overtime loss and never trailed in taking down East Lincoln by a 42-21 final on Friday night.

“Last year I think we would have folded up a little bit. I think we would have folded up after losing to Maiden. I don’t know how excited we would have been to play tonight,” Newton-Conover head coach Steven Pack said. “I think this is a different group. I think they believe in each other. I think they love each other and I think we’re getting some of the Newton-Conover Red Devil pride back. I told them they’ll never forget this night.”

There were certainly plenty of good things to remember for the Red Devils, beginning with the first time they got their hands on the ball.

“We wanted to take a shot. We thought we had a little bit of an advantage with our receivers and their secondary,” Pack said.

Following a quick three-and-out against a potent East Lincoln offense, Brandon Johnson returned the punt 14 yards to the East Lincoln 40-yard line. On the first play from scrimmage for Newton-Conover, quarterback Justin Craig launched a deep rainbow down the left sideline to wideout Zane Redmond. The ball went in and out of Redmond’s hands — and back in again for a 7-0 lead just seven seconds after the Red Devils took possession.

“Not really much to say,” said Redmond. “We work on it all the time in practice and it paid off.”

It was a harbinger of what was to follow.

Although East Lincoln tied the score later in the first quarter on a 20-yard run by Paulie Menegay, the Red Devils completely dominated the second period.

Newton-Conover took the lead for good in the second quarter on a tackle-breaking 6-yard run by Allen Wilfong.

Then spurred by Keagen Covington’s 29-yard catch on a spectacular spinning move in which he tipped the ball to himself, Newton-Conover made it a two-score lead, 21-7, on Redmond’s second touchdown reception of 8 yards.

Moments later, the Red Devils’ Allan Shade recovered a Mustangs’ fumble and with less than a minute remaining before intermission, Craig and Redmond hooked up for a third score of 5 yards and a 28-7 Newton-Conover lead.

But East Lincoln did not surrender and opened the second half with a successful onside kick. The Mustangs followed that with a 49-yard drive capped off by 10-yard scoring pass from Justin Barnett to Menegay.

Not satisfied with their hat trick to that point, Craig and Justice connected for a fourth touchdown, this time from 13 yards out, in response.

Redmond finished the game with five catches, four of them for touchdowns, for 69 yards. Craig was 15-of-22 passing for 217 yards with two interceptions.

“Zane had a big night, but BJ (Brandon Johnson) and Keagen Covinton had big nights too. They caught some big balls,” Pack said. “Thank goodness (because) we couldn’t run it very much. They (Mustangs) were big and physical inside.”

East Lincoln’s Ben Cutter picked off Craig for the second time to set up the Mustangs’ final score. Still in the third quarter, Barnett got the ball to Trevor Filo for a 16-yard touchdown to make the score 35-21 at the end of the third quarter.

But Covington had a spectacular defensive play of his own in the fourth quarter. Playing safety, the junior read Barnett and returned an interception 41 yards for Newton-Conover’s final touchdown to seal the win with 2:11 yet to play.

“East Lincoln is a really, really good football team. They just got done scoring 60 points last week,” Pack said. “I thought we played great defensively. We took some shots early and it paid off for us.”

The Red Devils came up with a fumble and interception and limited the Mustangs to 160 yards rushing and 126 passing.

Newton-Conover, East Lincoln and Maiden all entered the final week of the regular season tied for second in the South Fork 2A standings with 4-2 conference records. Maiden, however, held the tiebreaker with both the Red Devils and Mustangs by virtue of last-play wins over both.

The Red Devils’ final mark of 7-4 and third-place finish secured a spot in the postseason.

“We’re excited about whoever we get to play,” Pack said. “The win tonight helped us. We’re back in the playoffs and we didn’t make it last year. Back in the big dance.”

East Lincoln finishes in fourth place in the conference with an overall record of 8-3.

Note: Look for full area playoff matchups in Monday’s edition of the Hickory Daily Record.

East Lincoln 07 00 14 00 — 21

Newton-Conover 07 21 07 07 — 42

First Quarter

NC — Zane Redmond 40-yard pass from Justice Craig (Addison Hayes kick), 10:04

EL — Paulie Menegay 20-yard run (Jaden Kennedy kick), 5:42

Second Quarter

NC — Allen Wilfong 6-yard run (Hayes kick), 7:58

NC — Redmond 8-yard pass from Craig (Hayes kick), 2:59

NC — Redmond 5-yard pass from Craig (Hayes kick), :45

Third Quarter

EL — Menegay 10-yard pass from Justin Barnett (Kennedy kick), 8:58

NC — Redmond 13-yard pass from Craig (Hayes kick), 5:33

EL — Trevor Filo 16-yard pass from Barnett (Kennedy kick), :40

Fourth Quarter

NC — Keagen Covington 41-yard interception return (Hayes kick), 2:11

Team Stats

First Downs: East Lincoln 15, Newton-Conover 16

Rushes-yards: East Lincooln 32-160, Newton-Conover 34-80

Comp-Att-Int: East Lincoln 15-23-1, Newton-Conover 15-22-2

Passing yards: East Lincoln 126, Newton-Conover 217

Fumbles-Lost: East Lincoln 2-1, Newton-Conover 2-0

Penalties-yards: East Lincoln 7-76, Newton-Conover 3-35

Individual Stats

RUSHING — East Lincoln: Orlandis Howell-Johnson 4-11, Cole Barber 10-61, Justin Barnett 10-36, Paulie Menegay 6-53 and 1 TD, Mikivi Phinx 1-4, Askari Johnson 1-(-5). Newton-Conover: Allen Wilfong 22-49 and 1 TD, Allan Shade 5-18, Justice Craig 6-9, Keagen Covington 1-4.

PASSING — East Lincoln: Barnett 15-23-1 for 126 yards and 2 TDs. Newton-Conover: Craig 15-22-2 for 217 yards and 4 TDs.

RECEIVING — East Lincoln: Howell-Johnson 4-42, Menegay 2-13 and 1 TD, Markell Clark 3-34, Phinx 1-9, Barber 2-0, Trevor Filo 2-29 and 1 TD, Jeremiah Jones 1-(-1). Newton-Conover: Zane Redmond 5-69 and 4 TDs, Brandon Johnson 5-92, Josh Nichols 2-8, Covington 2-43, Wilfong 1-5.

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