HICKORY, NC– For decades, Lenoir Rhyne University has been known as a indistinguishable,and unrecognizable school across the globe. In fact,if you are a resident outside of Hickory, or even outside of North Carolina, you probably would have overlooked this school in the years past. Many have said that L-R is just a D-II program.Many said they wouldn’t go far. Many said that L-R was too small, and some have even asked who is L-R and where in the world is it?
The Lenoir Rhyne Bears were tired of hearing the same things over and over again, and they knew it was time to take charge. This small little school who just recently reached their highest total enrollment of 2,000 students this year, were ready to make a new statement but only this time on the football field in Between the Bricks of Moretz Stadium.
Well world this is the year, finally the time has come that the L-R Bears (13-1) are headed to the division II National Championship, the first time in 50 years. On this past Saturday the team crushed West Chester (13-2) 42-14 in the NCAA Division II National Semifinals. This was the biggest game that L-R has seen in awhile. A team that no one knew or heard of was welcomed into many homes because of the national attention from ESPN3.
Although the Bears advanced to the NAIA Championship game in 1959, 1960 and 1962, the journey to a National Championship this year means so much more. Coming into the season many had no idea that the Bears would go this far, only losing the first game of the season and thus after going on a remarkable winning streak. After having countless amounts of injuries the team still preserved and press their way to the top. As a matter of fact, the team has gone through three quarterbacks in the past couple of games.
L-R’s third string senior quarterback, Josh Justice has dominated the story lines throughout the entire post-season. Prior to last game, the quarterback only started in two games in his career all of those times being this year. In last weeks semifinal game, he rushed for a game-high 175 yards, three touchdowns, and scored three two-point conversions. No one knew that he could impacted this team so largely and play a instrumental role with the Bear’s success this year. The Bears not only tyrannized West Chester offensively but also defensively, limited the Rams to 213 total yards.
With four minutes remaining in the semifinal game, the wet and muddy Moretz Stadium was filled with nothing but joy and happiness. Fans filled the stadium with amusement and satisfaction. As the final seconds were coming to an end, players and coaches on the sideline hug in jubilance and reassurance that the team was for sure advancing to Nationals in Florence, Alabama. When the clock struck 0:00 players flocked to the middle of the field knowing that their short-term goal and dreams were made a reality in just 3 hours.
With all of the excitement of advancing to the Nationals, the team understands that their work isn’t done.The Lenoir Rhyne Bears still have a major task to complete this Saturday, December 21st. The L-R Bears will go head to head with Northwest Missouri State who is undefeated with a 14-0 overall record.
The Bears have won 20 of their last 21 games in Between the Bricks and now they are BAMA-Bound for the NCAA Division II National Championship. The game will air live at noon on ESPN2. With hard work, dedication, and the consistence that the Bears have displayed throughout the season, there is a high chance the the Bears will bring the Championship back to the Hickory.
No matter the outcome, when it is all said and done, win or lose, there is no doubt that North Carolina and the entire nation will know about this little school called Lenoir Rhyne University.