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Loyd Star Hornets go unbeaten in district

West Lincoln (3-7) had their chances in the second half of a close game with Loyd Star (7-3) on Friday night. The game was tied 16-16 deep into the third quarter before the Hornets got things rolling on their way to a 36-16 victory over the Bears.

On the first two Loyd Star drives of the second half the Bears forced Hornet fumbles that they recovered. However, the subsequent Bear drives would go nowhere. After the second stalled West Lincoln drive disaster struck for the Bears on a punt attempt.

The snap was high and West Lincoln punter Justin Pratt saw the ball go off his hands and over his head. Pratt scrambled backwards to recover the ball and was tackled by Loyd Star senior defensive lineman Zabian Price on the West Lincoln 29-yard line.

The Hornets would take advantage of the short field with a 14-yard Eric Birch touchdown run. The two-point conversions failed and with 36 seconds left in the third quarter Loyd Star led 22-16.

The following kickoff was a big shot of momentum that kept things trending in a Loyd Star direction. All night Hornet kicker Cole Carpenter had been using high and short placement on his kickoffs. That led to West Lincoln returners Enrico Price and Michael Brothern to creep up towards the 25-yard line on the kicks.

Carpenter burned them with a long kick that hit the wet turf and died around the one-yard line. Brothern scrambled to grab the ball and fight his way out to the 10-yard line.

The next West Lincoln drive went nowhere and once again gave Loyd Star great field position. The home team would take complete control of the game on a Birch 10-yard scoring run that put Loyd Star up 30-16 with 10:23 remaining in the game.

The final Hornet touchdown of the night would come on a three-yard Dane Smith run late in the final frame.

Birch would finish the night with four rushing touchdowns. His first score came with 5:29 remaining in the first quarter and was from two-yards out. That put the Hornets up 8-0 after a successful two-point conversion.

The Bears answered with a spectacular 80-yard touchdown run by The Daily Leader Offensive Player of the Week — freshman running back Enrico Price. Price hurdled a defender at the line of scrimmage and then outran the Hornet defense down the sideline. The two-point conversion was good, and the game was tied 8-8.

The following kickoff by Keshon Byrd of West Lincoln was a low line drive that the Hornet return team could not handle. West Lincoln senior Matthew Vance Boyte recovered the fumble at midfield and the Bear sideline and fanbase were pumped.

A 20-yard run by Price would get the Bears close and then Brothern punched in the score from the 1-yard line. The conversion attempt was good and West Lincoln led 16-8 with 8:13 remaining in the first half.

Birch tied the game up just two minutes later with his second score of the night. The scoring run was from the one-yard line and would put the game at 16-16 with 6:09 until halftime.

In a pregame ceremony the Hornets honored a senior class that is responsible for the best season by a Loyd Star team since 2010.

Hornet coach Brian Ford knew his team would play better in the second half after a close game in the first two quarters.

“We went in at halftime and made some adjustments, but hats off to West Lincoln,” said Ford. “They’re a tough team, but we thought we’d be able to wear them down in the second half. We had some turnovers that slowed us down, but I’m proud of the kids for keeping their heads up and staying focused.”

Price is one of the senior leaders on the team and his tackle on the botched punt late in the third quarter was a crucial play in the game. He says the district championship is the culmination of the goals the seniors set before the season.

“We said we wanted to win district, to host a playoff game, and to win a playoff game,” said Price. “Most of us have been playing together since pee-wee and it’s been a lot of fun to win together this year.”

“I’m proud of the way our kids kept fighting,” said West Lincoln coach BJ Smithhart. “We’re limited in ways to score right now and when they got the lead it was too much of a hole for us to dig out of.”

Ford crowded around his team as they took a photo on the field after the game. A district championship is something he wants his players to be proud of.

“I told them after the game to gather around for a picture,” said Ford. “I don’t ever want them to forget how hard they’ve worked this year to reach this goal.”

The Bears go on the road next week for a first-round matchup at Pelahatchie. Loyd Star will host Mize next Friday on W.E. “Sambo” Smith field in the opening round of the 2A playoffs.

Story by Cliff Furr