GARDEN CITY - Lincoln County became the first team this season to score an early touchdown on the Savannah Christian Raiders, but in the end that was not enough. The top-ranked Raiders' strong running game and stout defense earned the private school its third consecutive quarterfinal win over our Red Devils, 22-14.
The game was still in question in the final minute, with the visitors trailing by two, 16-14. The standing-room-only crowd, including a very strong representation from Lincoln County, was on its feet for much of the game.
Savannah Christian will play undefeated Prince Avenue Christian in one of the semifinal games on December 2. Eagles Landing Christian will host Landmark Christian in the other. This will be the first year all four semifinal teams are from private schools. Landmark Christian scored late to nip Aquinas 28-21.
Lincoln County finishes at 12-1-0. The seniors leave with a 45-8 mark and three region championships over the past four years. They upheld the Red Devil traditions of winning football and deep playoff visits. They were 4-0 against Washington-Wilkes, Warren County, Aquinas, McCormick, and others. They also earned great victories over arch-rival Commerce and defending state champ Clinch County, and owned a win over quarterfinalist Aquinas.
The Devils will lose several talented seniors to graduation. These young men improved each week since practice started during the sweltering days of August. Craig Jones finished with 1,255 rushing yards and 13 TDs on 142 carries, plus 145 yards and 3 TDs pass receiving. Denzel Gunby completed 82 of 159 pass attempts for 1,270 yards and 16 TDs with only 5 interceptions. Gunby also ran for 643 yards and 3 TDs on 107 carries. Mason Saggus was the leading receiver with 626 yards on 29 receptions with 8 touchdowns, plus one rushing TD.
Abbeville, a 24-13 loser to our Red Devils early this season, repeated as Class A Division 1 state champions with a 20-0 win over Hemingway. The Panthers only loss was to Lincoln County.
On its second possession, Savannah Christian failed to make a fourth down at its 36. Gunby found Jones open about the 10, and Craig scooted in from there to take an early lead with 4:24 left in the opening period.After the 22-yard pass play, James Spratlin's kick made it 7-0.
The game became a defensive struggle until the Raiders' elusive quarterback scored on a 12-yard run with 4:47 left in the second quarter. The PAT kick tied the game at 7-all.
The Red Devils lined up expecting an onside kick from the Raiders, and the home team did just that. After a lengthy discussion by the officials, the ball was awarded to the Raiders at the 50. Savannah Christian drove with the quarterback scoring on a 9-yard run with 12 seconds left in the half. The PAT effort failed, leaving the halftime score 13-7.
Savannah Christian booted a 30-yard field goal midway the third quarter after penalties helped stop its drive.
Our Devils came right back, making three first downs. The big play was a 15-yard pass from Gunby to Jalen Franklin on 4th-and-8 at the SC 34. Gunby again found Jones open on the same play as the first score, this time for 12 yards with 1:43 left in the third quarter. Spratlin's kick cut the lead to 16-14.
The Raiders strong ground game took over seven minutes off the clock before the Devils stopped them. Big Red was driving when a fumble ended the drive. After a quick possession by each team, the Devils were trying to stop the Raiders on a short-yardage play when one of the Raiders' many good backs broke through and scored on a 48-yard run with 39 seconds left.
The Devils picked up one first down before time ran out on their 2011 season.
Savannah Christian had the ball for over 30 minutes of the 48 game minutes. The Raiders rushed 55 times for 352 yards, plus 43 yards passing for nearly 400 yards and 18 first downs on offense. Our Red Devils completed 11 of 25 pass attempts for 176 yards with one interception. Red Devil rushers were held to just 23 yards on 14 attempts. LC had 10 first downs.
The GHSA is undergoing realignment for the 2012-2013 seasons. Lincoln County is expected to stay in Class A as GHSA moves to a six-class system. Washington-Wilkes is expected to move up to Class AA. Classifications and regions will be finalized in January.