It's just a regular game -- NOT!

October 10, 2011

It's that time of year again. This Friday, Lincoln County will travel to neighboring Washington to play the Tigers in the annual renewal of one of the most intense high school football rivalries in Georgia, in the southeast, and in the USA.

But come on. It's just another game. Two groups of young men, coached by athletic mentors and supported by family and friends, will meet on the gridiron to determine whose team plays the best on this particular night.

That is essentially how it all started in 1922. The young boys from Lincolnton had had a good run in their first season, outscoring four opponents 147-6. But the townsfolk from Washington knew their team was experienced since their program started several years earlier. Their Bearcats, as they were known then, were 4-1, having four shutout wins (91-0) and a loss to strong Athens. There was no way these upstart kids from Lincolnton could play with the team from Washington.

The game was played on Halloween afternoon, and some think Washington has held a grudge ever since. The Washington newspaper called the game " a hectic affray staged at Lincolnton last Tuesday. Washington and Lincolnton High School teams clash in four rounds of splendid football, which resulted in dogfall of 7-7."

A month later, on Thanksgiving afternoon, the Lincolnton team traveled to Washington for a rematch on the East Georgia Fairgrounds. Eight hundred fans attended the game which Washington won 13-6. Unfortunately, the spectators got out of control, and the two teams would not meet again on the gridiron for 17 years, until 1939.

It's just a regular game.

One thing that's added to the rivalry is the closeness of the two communities. The two county seats are only 19 miles apart. For many years, to leave Lincoln County it was a ferry ride to South Carolina, an all-day trip to Augusta, or a train ride to Washington. If you needed to buy something and couldn't find it in Lincolnton, you would probably next look in Washington. That led to inter-county marriages, which led to "houses divided", at least during a certain week of the year. That continues today, with at least one current Red Devil the son of a Tiger football star from the 1980s.
And while the Tigers once had a huge lead in the rivalry, in recent years the Devils have overtaken the Wilkes County school to lead 35-32-6.

It's just a regular game.

In a game postponed a week due to the 911 attacks, the Red Devils went into Tiger Stadium knowing it would be a tough battle. They didn't realize how bad it would be, as the Tigers scored more points on a team from Lincolnton than any other ever in a 55-14 victory. The Devils would finish 6-6 in 2001, their only non-winning season since 1973. Red Devil fans were not a happy bunch.

It's just a regular game.

Most years this game means just a simple win or loss. Sometimes, like this year, it is a region game that will affect who makes the playoffs and where they are seeded in the bracket. That might add a little to the game excitement, primarily for the coaches.

It was that way in 2005. The Tigers were a 27-point favorite when the Devils stepped on the turf at Tiger Stadium. When they walked off the field, they had earned a 20-13 win. That game was exactly 6 years ago from this Friday. Needless to say, the W-W faithful weren't too happy.

If that game wasn't enough, the unthinkable then happened. For the first time since 1922, the two schools would face each other a second time in the same season, and this time for all the marbles. In what was the biggest game in Lincolnton history, with over 7,000 fans looking on, our Devils won the Class A state championship in a 25-0 victory over the Tigers.

It's just a regular game.

Lincoln County was still on a roll the next season when the Tigers returned to Buddy Bufford Field. W-W got some revenge with a 3-0 shutout. That was the only blemish on a 14-1 record and 14th state title season for the Devils. Washington-Wilkes has never had a perfect (all wins, no losses or ties) football season. Our Red Devils have had 14 perfect seasons.

Russell Morgan, whose contract was not renewed as Tiger head coach after the 2008 season, was 1-6 against Lincoln County. Some say that was the reason he was let go. Coach Morgan is now head coach at Chattahoochee County, a Region 4-A school near Columbus. His Panthers defeated the Hawkinsville Red Devils 20-7 last Friday night.

It's just a regular game.

Washington-Wilkes has had nine head football coaches during the time that Larry Campbell has been the Red Devil head coach. Campbell is 28-12 against the Tigers, including two overtime wins. During that stretch (1972-now), Lincoln County is 453-78-3. Washington-Wilkes is 285-175-2.

Two great coaches of this long series were lost earlier this year. Charlie Davidson, the only coach to lead the Tigers to state football championships, and Thomas Bunch passed away. Coach Bunch assisted Coach Davidson at Washington in the 1950's before returning home to Lincolnton to lead the Red Devils to state titles in the early 1960's.

It's just -- it's -- NO, it is NOT just a regular game. It's Lincoln County vs. Washington-Wilkes. It's Red Devils vs. Tigers. It is where Lincoln County fans ought to be Friday night - in Tigertown to cheer on our Red Devils. Go DEVILS!