By Nathan Shoup
RENO—Lincoln County certainly had its chances.
But a pair of squandered red zone opportunities in the second half of Saturday’s Division III state title game against Yerington (12-0) forced the Lynx (10-2) to watch the Lions celebrate a third-straight state title with a 21-8 loss.
“It’s a little bit deflating to get in the red zone and not finish,” Lincoln County coach Rich Ottley said.
Trailing 21-8 late in the third quarter, the Lynx marched from their own 11 into the red zone but a holding call stalled the drive and eventually forced a turnover on downs at the Yerington 27.
The Lions fumbled three plays later to set the Lynx up at their own 48 and they marched to the Yerington 4 before again, turning the ball over on downs with just six minutes remaining.
“That was probably where the game was decided,” Yerington coach Cody Neville said of the fourth-down stops. “Down there where the defense had to dig in inside our own red zone … it was the front line and d-ends putting some pressure on (quarterback McClain O’Connor).”
O’Connor was pushed from the pocket throughout the contest and forced to run 20 times but was held to 67 yards.
It was O’Connor’s arm that gave Lincoln County an early lead before allowing 21 unanswered the rest of the way. The DIII South’s Offensive Player of the Year made a handful of would-be tacklers miss before lofting a 12-yard pass into the end zone where Cody Thornock made a diving catch. Will Culverwell converted the two-point try to make it 8-0.
Neither team scored on its following possession before Yerington pieced together three-straight touchdown drives that proved to be the difference.
The first score came via a 78-yard touchdown run from Reece Neville to cut Lincoln’s lead to one with 1:27 left in the first quarter.
Neville again broke a big run, a 51-yarder, on the first play of the second quarter that set up a 31-yard touchdown pass from Dakota Aiazzi to Sam Hammond on fourth and eight, giving the Lions the lead for good.
Neville finished with 288 rushing yards and a touchdown on 29 carries.
“Reece Neville is just a fantastic running back,” Ottley said.
Michael Monahan extended the distance to 21-8 with 4:08 left in the first half on a 24-yard touchdown run.
The 21 points were a season-low for Yerington, which still finished with 378 yards of offense on 57 plays. Lincoln County’s eight points were also a season-low. The Lynx finished with 232 yards of offense on 69 plays.
“We’re happy with our kids, Ottley said. “We’ve never played a team that wasn’t physically bigger than us. Our kids always played hard and they played hard tonight. They gave Yerington one of the better games they’ve had all year.”