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Wolves survive controversy, win 45-42

Lincoln stops Mena twice late in fourth by Mark Humphrey | September 13, 2023 at 11:30 a.m.
Mark Humphrey/Enterprise-Leader/Lincoln senior linebackers Nick Martinez (No. 44) and Trace Wallace (No. 7) signal "possession Wolves" when defensive lineman Ryan Provence recovered a botched attempt to spike the ball by Mena with 10 seconds left, sealing Lincoln's 45-42, nonconference football victory over the Bearcats Friday.

LINCOLN -- Lincoln head football coach Reed Mendoza felt his team got cheated out of a possession when Kale Jones ran an interception 60 yards back for a touchdown.

The defensive touchdown would have virtually put the game away by stretching Lincoln's lead to 45-21 with 49.9 seconds left in the third quarter, but instead Mena rallied and Lincoln had to hold on for a 45-42 nonconference victory over Mendoza's hometown in a finish mired neck-deep in controversy Friday at Wolfpack Stadium.

Officials ruled what they termed a "blindside block" early in the runback superseded the change of possession, and not only took the defensive gem off the board, but also restored possession to Mena, awarding the Bearcats 19 yards via penalty and a first down at Lincoln's 41.

The original line of scrimmage had been Mena's 40 with the Bearcats throwing a "pick six" while trying to convert third-and-17.

Mena's Sean Sullivan, whose twin brother Michael Sullivan also plays, scored on a 23-yard pass from Bearcat quarterback Dax McMellon to answer 14 points by Lincoln in the third quarter, which ended with the Wolves ahead 38-28.

Two Defensive Stops

Mena scored twice in a 1:01 span of the fourth, sandwiched around an onside kick recovery to pull within 45-42, but Lincoln shut them out over the final 6:39. The Wolves forced a turnover on downs at the two-minute mark of the fourth, but coughed up the football on a fumbled snap and things weren't decided until Ryan Provence pounced on what was supposed to be a spiked ball with the Bearcats out of time-outs trying to stop the clock on first down from their own 46 with 10 seconds to go.

"We just found a way to make plays. We kind of did it all night. We gave them a little bit more than we would like," Mendoza said. "Ryan found a way to make a play. It was kind of a bunch of weird situations like that. That should be simple, they snap it and they spike it and it's run another play and see if they can get in field goal range, but that's what happens when you play hard, too. You create lucky situations whenever you play hard."

Provence remembered how that unfolded. He was in the right place at the right time.

"The quarterback had about 20 seconds left on the clock, so they went to spike it. The quarterback just dropped it and it landed right between the defensive tackle's feet and I just jumped on it. I stole it from one of the other players. One of ours, but we ended up getting it," Provence said.

That's not the time to decide who gets the glory. When there's a loose ball on the field, pounce on it and Provence came up with the big stop to ice the game for Lincoln, which took one snap to run out the clock.

Fourth Quarter Frenzy

Lincoln withstood Mena's fourth quarter frenzy, in which the Bearcats scored the final 14 points of the game and got within a field goal.

Mena made some exceptional plays down the stretch.

The combination of sophomore quarterback McMellon (6-2, 205) to junior receiver Sean Sullivan (5-11, 180) clicked on a variety of routes and situations.

After Lincoln marched 80 yards in 9 plays, punching the ball in on Kale Jones' third straight run from the Bearcat one to open up a 45-28 Wolves' lead with 9:10 to play, McMellon and Sullivan put on a show.

Sean Sullivan hauled in an 18-yard reception on second-and-10, and later on first-and-goal from Lincoln's 10 gained 8 yards on a catch. From there, Austin Rose ran for the score. Jair Hernandez kicked the P.A.T. and with 7:40 remaining, Lincoln's lead was reduced to 45-35.

The Bearcats executed a perfectly-timed onside kick. Hernandez sent the ball sharply to his left, coming off a straight-on approach. Sean Sullivan fielded it, giving the Bearcats a second-straight possession at the 50-yard-line.

Facing third-and-eight from Lincoln's 48, McMellon went to Sean Sullivan for nine yards, then hit him again on the next play. Sean Sullivan made a spectacular catch after colliding in midair with Lincoln defensive back J.R. Hall. He hung on despite flipping over and landing on his elbow at the Wolves' 5-yard-line.

Rose finished the drive on the next play and Hernandez slashed Lincoln's lead to a mere 3-points, 45-42, at the 6:39 mark of the fourth period.

Lincoln Creates Turnovers

Lincoln turned the ball back over on an interception, but the Wolves' defense rose to the occasion and despite allowing one first down, never let Sean Sullivan get open again. Five Mena passes fell incomplete on the drive. One was tipped, another broken up and a fourth down desperation pass caught out-of-bounds

In the first quarter, Lincoln spotted Mena 14 points by allowing a 63-yard halfback option score and a 48-yard pick six, then scored 25 unanswered points to take the lead. Lincoln quarterback Drew Moore threw touchdown passes to Trace Wallace (44 yards) and a pair to Caden Brewer for 17 and 32 yards, coupled with Jones' 38-yard run to daylight to capture a 25-21 halftime lead.

Brewer said playing Mendoza's hometown provided incentive. He was coming off an injury in week zero against Greenland that forced him to miss the Sept. 1 game at Westville, Okla.

"It motivates me a ton. Going into the conference 3-0 will be big for us," Brewer said. "I wasn't 100 percent tonight, but we still got the win."

Brewer attributed his three interceptions in the game to a combination of coaching and his athletic ability.

"Just don't get your eyes lost," Brewer said as he celebrated the win. "Everybody in the school's excited. It just brings a nice environment to Lincoln in general."

Brewer returned an interception in the third quarter to the Bearcats' four. He was tripped up at the last second.

Jones scored on the next play and added a trio of rushing touchdowns in the second half. Senior linebacker Nick Martinez helped shape the win. He's thankful to be back playing football after taking a year or two off.

"Honestly, I had to do what I had to do, but I'm glad to be back. Besides that, I honestly kind of wish I would have stayed," Martinez said.

Mendoza noted it's good to have Martinez back on the roster.

"We need Nick back. We're a better football team with Nick and for him to complement Kale in the backfield at times [as he did in the Westville game], and then he made some huge plays defensively there in the second half for us as well. It was a good team effort," Mendoza said.

Lincoln is off this week, then begins 4A-1 Conference play next Friday, Sept. 22, at Green Forest.

Lincoln 45, Mena 42



First Quarter

Mena -- Dennison Reed 63-yard pass from Austin Rose (Jair Hernandez kick), xx:xx.

Mena -- Jaxon Baber 48-yard interception return (Jair Hernandez kick), xx:xx.

Lincoln -- Kale Jones 38-yard run (kick blocked), xx:xx.

Lincoln -- Trace Wallace 44-yard pass from Drew Moore (run failed), 4:35.

Second Quarter

Lincoln -- Caden Brewer 17-yard pass from Drew Moore (pass failed), 10:20.

Lincoln -- Caden Brewer 32-yard pass from Drew Moore (Kale Jones kick), xx:xx.

Mena -- Kalib Cox 49-yard pass from Dax McMellon (Jair Hernandez kick), 00:04.

Third Quarter

Lincoln -- Kale Jones 4-yard run (Kale Jones kick), 8:48.

Lincoln -- Kale Jones 4-yard run (Kale Jones kick), 3:56.

Mena -- Sean Sullivan 23-yard pass from Dax McMellon (Jair Hernandez kick), 00:02.

Fourth Quarter

Lincoln -- Kale Jones 1-yard run (kick failed), 9:10.

Mena -- Austin Rose 2-yard run (Jair Hernandez kick), 7:40.

Mena -- Austin Rose 5-yard run (Jair Hernandez kick), 6:39.



Total plays^79^65

First downs^26^16

Total offense^496^430


Passing yards^283^273

Rush average^5.2^3.6





Fumbles lost^1^2


Third-down conversion^9-17^5-15

Fourth-down conversion^1-2^1-3


RUSHING -- Lincoln, Kale Jones 39-219, Tye Moss 1-8, Drew Moore 1-0, Caden Brewer 1-(-4), Team 1-(-10). Totals 43-223. Mena, Austin Rose 13-64, Brody Peters 13-47, Dax McMellon 3-(-7). Totals 29-104.

PASSING -- Lincoln, Drew Moore 20-28-283-3-4. Mena, Dax McMellon 18-39-273-2-3, Austin Rose 1-1-63-1-0. Totals 19-40-326-3-3.

RECEIVING -- Lincoln, Caden Brewer 8-98, Colt Cushing 4-84, Kale Jones 2-52, Trace Wallace 3-38, Kellar Price 1-6, J.R. Hall 2-5. Totals 20-283. Mena, Sean Sullivan 9-104, Dennison Reed 3-80, Austin Rose 3-76, Kalib Cox 1-49, Phillip Hensley III 1-11, Brody Peters 1-8, Tucker Stricklin 1-(2). Totals 19-326.

  photo  Mark Humphrey/Enterprise-Leader/Lincoln defenders signal an incomplete pass and change of possession when Mena's Elijah Smith trapped the ball against the turf while trying to make a reception. The pass was ruled incomplete and the ball turned over on downs, helping Lincoln secure its 45-42 nonconference football victory over the Bearcats Friday.
  photo  Mark Humphrey/Enterprise-Leader/Lincoln junior Kale Jones runs the ball against Mena. The Bearcats were never able to contain the hard-working back, who scored four rushing touchdowns and had a 60-yard interception return for a touchdown waved off by a controversial penalty. The Wolves won, 45-42, Friday to complete the nonconference portion of the football season at 3-0.
  photo  Mark Humphrey/Enterprise-Leader/Lincoln head football coach Reed Mendoza (left) shakes hands with Mena head coach Craig Bentley after the Wolves held off the Bearcats, 45-42, Friday. Lincoln takes a 3-0 record into the 4A-1 Conference season. Mena is Mendoza's hometown and he was elated with the victory.

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