Lincoln County will host the defending state champion Clinch County Panthers this Friday night in the second round of the playoffs. The Devils whipped Commerce 35-14 in the first round.
Clinch County is 8-3, and the third seed in Region 2-A behind undefeated Wilcox County and always strong Charlton County. The Panthers' losses were to those teams, with the third a shocker to Irwin County by one point. Clinch, which started the season ranked #1, scored in the final minutes last Friday to nip Mitchell County 20-19 in Camilla.
Clinch and our Devils have met eight times in the playoffs. The Devils' 21-14 victory in the 2006 state title game in Lincolnton evened the series at four wins each. Only once in the past five years have the Panthers been stopped short of reaching at least the state semifinals. A large crowd is expected for the game, so Devil fans are asked to get to the field early.
Elevens were the number of the night on 11/11/11, with 11-yard passes, 11-yard runs, and 138 yards and two touchdowns on only eight carries for number 11, Craig Jones. He went over 1,000 yards rushing for the season. Gunby also surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for the season with 81 yards on seven completions in ten attempts; he also rushed 7 times for 95 yards.
Lincoln County jumped out to a 14-0 first quarter lead before Commerce got warmed up. After a good opening kickoff return by Craig Jones, Denzel Gunby connected with Mason Saggus for 11 yards and a first down near midfield. Gunby rambled for 20 before passing to Jones for another 11. Saggus snagged a four-yard pass to the 15. Saggus ran in motion, took the handoff from Gunby, and outraced the defenders to the goal. James Spratlin's extra point kick was good making it a 7-0 lead with just over two minutes gone in the game.
Commerce picked up two first downs before the Devil Defense halted the drive short of midfield. A bad punt gave the Devils possession at their 49. Jones galloped for 48 yards down the right side before being caught at the 3. He scored from there on the next play with 4:54 left in the opening period. The PAT kick put the Devils up 14-0.
Behind the running of their quarterback, Commerce drove into Lincoln territory before Jamar Norman added to his list of interceptions at the LC 2. Sherrod Jones had runs of 12 and 29 to help move the Devils to the Commerce 44. Gunby passed to Saggus on the right sideline, with Saggus scurrying to the endzone for an apparent touchdown. The TD was nullified by a rarely-called "offensive pick" penalty that also included loss-of-down with the 15-yards from line of scrimmage.
The two teams swapped punts. The Devils would threaten again late in the second before a fourth down run came up just short at the 15. The Devils led 14-0 at the break.
Commerce took the opening kickoff of the second half and drove down the field, with the quarterback scoring on an 8-yard run with 3:24 left in the third. The big play on the drive was a 33-yard run by the TIger fullback.
When it looked like Commerce may be in position, behind only 14-7, to pull a major upset, the Devil Offense took charge. Gunby-to-Saggus gained 6. Craig Jones rushed for 2. The Jones broke a tackle at the line and was gone to the endzone, 72 yards later. The Devils had re-established their 14-point lead, 21-7, with 2:10 left in the third.
After forcing a Tiger punt, the Devils took over on their 19. Zireycus Letman caught an aerial from Gunby for 9 yards, followed by Blake Murray for 19 yards. Gunby then scrambled for 44 to the Tiger 9. After an offsides walk-off, Mike McIntire scored from the 4 with 9:07 left in the game. The Devils led 28-7.
With the Tiger QB passing or running on every play, the Tigers drove 80 yards on 10 plays to score on a 1-yard run with 5:43 left. For the game, that quarterback rushed 41 times for 192 yards.
After a Lincoln punt and with 3:12 left, Commerce tried passing. On their second play, the Tiger pass was intecepted by Tra Brown who returned it 15 yards, with another 9 added on a penalty. McIntire rushed for 11, with an offsides flag adding 5. McIntire then scored from the 4 with 1:59 left in the game. The final margin was 35-14. Commerce ended its season at 4-7.
Two of the other three Region 7-A playoff teams also advanced Friday night. Aquinas will travel to Rochelle to take on powerful Wilcox County. Wilkinson County will head southwest to play Seminole County in Donalsonville. Washington-Wilkes lost to Prince Avenue Christian and ended its season at 5-6.