AUGUSTA - Turnovers often trump offensive yards, and that certainly was the case here last Thursday night when the Lincoln County Red Devils managed a 20-13 win over the Aquinas Fightin' Irish despite having only about half of the yards of the home team.
Behind 10-0 at the break, the Devils took the lead in the third quarter thanks to a fumble return for touchdown and an interception that led to a touchdown. The Devils' best drive of the night was their final one, when they went 73 yards in 91 seconds to retake the lead after an Irish field goal had tied it with 2:29 left in the game.
The game, featuring two teams ranked in Class A's Top 5, was played before the largest crowd ever at the Aquinas stadium. Cars lined Highland Avenue and neighboring streets in addition to the baseball field and the paved parking areas.
The victory by Lincoln County extended its win-streak over the Irish to 32 games, starting in 1973. Irish star player Brendan Douglas rushed 27 times for 153 yards but was kept out of the endzone. Douglas was also a force on defense, as the Devils were held to only 33 yards and a single first down in the first half.
In the first two quarters, all but four offensive plays were snapped on the Lincoln side of the 50. The Devils took the opening kickoff but came up a yard short of making a first down. After a punt, the Irish started from their 38 with Douglas picking up a first down on a 5-yard run on 4th-&-1. The Devil Defense stopped that drive at the LC 46. The Irish punt was fair-caught at the LC 10.
An offensive interference penalty on first down put the Devils in a hole they wouldn't get out of. The Devil punt and a unsportsman-like-conduct penalty against Aquinas gave the Irish the ball at the LC 49. The Devil Defense again played well, stopping the Irish after one first down. The Irish punt by Douglas again kept the Devils backed up, this time starting at the LC 7. The Devils gained one yard on three plays, and punted again.
The Irish started from the LC 34. Douglas rushed for 6 before Aquinas scored on a 28-yard pass on the first play of the second half.
Penalties killed the Devils' next drive, ending with a 4th-&-26 at the LC 11. Aquinas started its next drive at the LC 45, moving to have a first down at the LC 10 before the Devil Defense strengthened to force a field goal attempt. The 29-yard field goal was good with 4:48 left in the half, giving the Irish a 10-0 lead.
An interception on the next Lincoln drive gave the Irish another scoring opportunity, but the Devil Defense didn't allow a first down. After a punt and starting from their 1, the Devils did manage their only first down of the first half on a 9-yard run by Mike McIntire to the LC 16.
The first few minutes of the second half looked to be a repeat of the first 24 minutes. Aquinas took the kickoff and moved to the LC 37 thanks to three runs by Douglas. On the last run, for 33 yards, the strong back was dragging the Devil defender down the field, but that Devil wouldn't let go of Douglas' jersey until help arrived and prevented the breakaway touchdown. On the next play Jalen Franklin grabbed an Irish pass and returned the ball about 50 yards to the Irish 24.
With new found life, and after penalties, Mike McIntire pounded the pigskin in from the 14. The touchdown, with James Spratlin's PAT kick, closed the gap to 10-7 with 7:51 left in the third quarter.
The Devil Defense stopped the Irish, and the Devils took over at the Aquinas 45. Lincoln picked up one first down on a 10-yard pass from Ben Turner to Zireycus Letman to the Irish 30. A 20-yard pass from Turner to Blake Murray was nullified by a penalty, and the Devils turned the ball over on downs at the Irish 33.
Douglas rushed for 8 yards but fumbled on the next play. Jamar Norman scooped up the ball and scampered 32 yards for a touchdown and a Red Devil lead. The PAT kick went wide left for Spratlin's first miss of the season, but the Devils' led 13-10 with 2:55 remaining in the third.
Douglas broke a 30-yard run to midfield to bring the Irish back. The drive was stopped at the LC 29. The Irish punt went into the endzone, and the Devils started from their 20. Lincoln came up a yard short of a first down, and punted to the Aquinas 39. With Douglas doing most of the work, the Irish drove to the LC 22 before the Devil Defense stopped Douglas for no gain on 4th-&-5. Aquinas booted a 39-yard field goal to tie the game with 2:29 left on the clock.
The game ending regulation in a tie would have meant overtime, but the Lincoln County coaches wanted to end the game in regulation. McIntire rushed 15 yards to the LC 42. Turner hit Letman behind the defense for 27 yards. With no fan sitting, Turner rushed for 11 to the Irish 20. McIntire bulled ahead for five to the 15. Turner then hit a wide-open Letman on the right side who went untouched into the endzone. The touchdown came with 48 seconds left in the game. Spratlin started a new PAT streak to give the Devils a 20-13 lead.
But Aquinas still had time to win the game and break the 40-year, 31-game losing streak. Franklin knocked down the first pass attempt. Four yards were gained on a pass on second down. The Devil defenders knocked down the third-down pass attempt. And Franklin tipped away the fourth down effort, sealing the win with 24 seconds left. The Devils had upset the Irish 20-13.
This Friday in Lincolnton another winning streak will be on the line when Georgia Military College comes to visit Buddy Bufford Field. As head coach, Larry Campbell has never lost a Homecoming game in his 40 previous seasons. Kickoff with the Bulldogs is at 7:30, with the Homecoming Queen being crowned at halftime.