The Lenoir-Rhyne football team scored in just about every way imaginable on Saturday night, kicking off the 2019 season with a 68-7 victory over St. Augustine’s at Moretz Stadium.

The Bears were dominant from beginning to end, scoring 37 points in the opening quarter and adding to their lead in every subsequent period. They outgained the Falcons 408-107, had three takeaways compared to one giveaway and scored on five of their six trips into the red zone — their only failure to do so came when they took a knee near the goal line to end the game.

“It was a good day and obviously the team we’re playing, they’re struggling a little bit and it got to snowballing on them a little bit, but we caused a lot of that too,” L-R coach Drew Cronic said. “I thought our first-string guys played sharp, we got the big lead.

“We got to play a whole lot of guys tonight, which is gonna be great for the future as part of building depth, morale and just having guys ready to go,” he added. “… I think we were pretty sharp, and obviously we’re gonna go back and watch the film and try to correct things, but it was a big day for us.”

It didn’t take long for L-R (1-0) to crack the scoreboard, as the Falcons received the opening kickoff and proceeded to throw an interception on the third play from scrimmage. The Bears’ Kyle Dugger picked the ball off and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown to give L-R a 7-0 lead with 13:34 remaining in the first quarter.

“When you right out of the gate get a pick-six it’s helpful, and I’m glad that joker’s on our team,” said Cronic of Dugger. “He is a good football player and he is a great kid, and I think we’ve had 27 NFL teams by here in the last four weeks to see him. … He is a special, special talent, and I’m glad he’s on our team.”

After a three-and-out, St. Augustine’s (0-1) was forced to punt, but their punter bobbled the snap and was tackled at his own 4-yard line. Following an offsides penalty, L-R’s Raja Bradley scored from 2 yards out to increase the advantage to 14-0 at the 10:39 mark.

St. Augustine’s managed its only score of the contest after Dugger fumbled away a punt moments later, giving the Falcons possession inside L-R territory. St. Augustine’s finished the drive with a 23-yard pass from Jalen Jones to Kyle Levere, who got past his defender and made a sensational one-handed catch in the end zone.

That was one of the few times the Falcons would have something to cheer about, as L-R scored four more times in the first quarter to open up a 37-7 lead. Grayson Willingham threw TD passes of 7 and 25 yards to Jaquay Mitchell and Dareke Young, respectively, while a safety and Amarrian Brown’s fumble recovery in the end zone accounted for the Bears’ remaining first-quarter points.

After L-R added a 37-yard field goal from Chase Allbaugh — who was also a perfect 9 for 9 on extra-point attempts — the Bears also scored on a 45-yard TD scamper from Mitchell and a 34-yard scoring strike from Willingham to Demarius Hampton to extend their lead to 54-7 at the half. The hosts added a third-quarter TD on an 18-yard pass from Gunnar Anderson to Will Neal and a fourth-quarter score on a 5-yard TD run from Ameen Stevens to run the final margin to 61 points.

The Bears removed their starters in the second half and allowed many of their younger players to receive playing time. They used four quarterbacks — Willingham, Anderson, Hayden Mann and Trevor Shue — while 15 different players carried the ball and six receivers caught passes.

“It’s outstanding because we had a lot of freshmen get to play, and I think we’re a deeper team this year than we were a year ago,” said Cronic. “But those guys getting as many game reps as possible against other opponents, it just helps us. It helps us get better, create depth and morale.

“When everybody gets to play in a game, that’s always a good thing,” he continued. “Everybody feels like they contributed. So those were the positive things.”

L-R’s Willingham completed 6 of 10 passes for 99 yards and three scores, while Mitchell gained 73 yards and a TD on five carries and Hampton was the leading receiver with 2 catches for 42 yards and a score. Markus Smith added seven carries for 50 yards, Damien Devine had two receptions for 35 yards and Dugger finished with two interceptions — the one he returned for the game’s first TD and another he returned 63 yards early in the second quarter.

Other defensive standouts for L-R included Jaquan Artis with nine total tackles (5 solo), 2.5 sacks and four tackles for loss and Donte Young with eight total tackles (5 solo) and one tackle for loss.

“Now we’ve got to be realistic, we’ve got to look at, ‘hey, if we make this mistake in a tight game, it might cost us,’” said Cronic of his team’s few mistakes. “We’ve got to find the things we need to work on and get better, and hopefully we can have a great week of practice this week.”

The Bears are at Virginia Union next Saturday, with kickoff set for 1 p.m. in Richmond, Virginia.

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Josh McKinney is the sports editor for the Hickory Daily Record. 

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