LUMBERTON — The close games and the lumps the Lumberton football teams had endured over the first three weeks of the season paid off.
After being on the wrong end of a blowout and two close games, the Pirates knew that with the first win of the season on the line for them visiting West Brunswick was going to bring the best out of both teams. The experience cashed out in a 21-14 home win for Lumberton to close non-conference play with big plays from its defense late.
“I felt like tonight we were playing them and us. Not having a win is really taxing on a team,” Lumberton coach Mike Setzer said. “I’m so glad we got through the adversity and now I feel that we are on the right track and start moving forward and get where we need to be.”
Lumberton (1-3) took a shot to the mouth early, but the defense responded to force three turnovers and keep West Brunswick (0-4) to just one touchdown the rest of the game, and the Pirates resurgent offense behind its running game took advantage in the win.
The win, leading into a bye week before opening Sandhills Athletic Conference play against Hoke, injects the right dose of confidence that had been absent from the team entering the game.
“We needed this win really bad. It was too important to get this win right here,” Setzer said.
The Pirates had two possessions in the first half and used its second drive, following a nearly 10-minute drive that ended empty-handed for the Trojans, to cut the score going into the locker room when Braylan Grice scored on a five-yard touchdown. After a missed extra point, the lead was cut 7-6 with 53 seconds left in the half. The Trojans first score came on a 46-yard touchdown pass on third and long.
After halftime, momentum was carried over as Lumberton took a 14-7 lead three plays into the quarter when Grice and Kwashek Breeden connected on a 62-yard strike. West Brunswick responded to tie the game when Amir Ford went 50 yards on two rushes.
Outside a few big runs, the Lumberton defense showed its bend-but-don’t-break mentality against the Trojan rushing attack. That side of the ball has shown improvements the last three weeks for the Pirates, and came away with big plays late. Two plays courtesy of senior linebacker Breighlan Swindell.
His first moment came late in the third quarter when he jumped on a loose ball at midfield to give the Pirates the ball, setting up the game-winning score early in the fourth quarter when Grice hit running back Montrez Howell on a six-yard slip pass. He then sealed the win when he hauled in a tipped pass in the end zone to pick off West Brunswick quarterback Owen McDowell.
“I knew I had to make a play. Big players make big plays in big time games,” he said.
Despite not holding the Trojans to as low a rushing total as it did with South View on Monday, Swindell saw the defense show more togetherness.
“There was a lot of intensity on defense. It was just continuity. We love each other and believe in the system that it’s 11 men to the ball each play,” Swindell said. “We can’t be content. It was the first win and we want many more.”
Carrying high expectations coming into the season, Setzer has seen the group gel together and feels that the vision for the team set in the preseason showed flashes of light in the win.
“The ability to finish and keep going, that’s what I saw out of them,” he said. “We have the pieces in the group, but we are still learning, as we put new pieces in there, how to play with each other.”
One such area, along with the defense that has shown improvement in the win was the run game. Battling through injuries, Howell had been held quiet in his first three games, but the signs of rust and shortcomings from the previous games were shaken off with his first run, a 16-yard scamper on his first carry.
“It feels good that we got the win and that I was able to get back on track,” Howell said.
He finished with 65 yards rushing and one reception for the score. Grice also added 71 yards rushing and passed for 107 yards.
Damonte Daniels had a game-high 95 yards rushing, and Ford added 84 on the ground for West Brunswick.
Lumberton senior Breighlan Swindell (31) celebrates with the rest of the Pirates’ defense after he hauled in the game-clinching interception in the 21-14 win over West Brunswick.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.