It took 33 tries and 41 years, but the second-ranked Aquinas Irish finally claimed another victory over the Lincoln County Red Devils. The Devils led early, but the final was 42-14 for the visitors at Buddy Bufford Field.
The Red Devils will need to win their final four regular season games to ensure a playoff berth for the fortieth consecutive year. That task starts this week in Milledgeville when Lincoln County travels to play GMC. The Bulldogs are 2-4 and coming off a 21-8 victory over Warren County.
GMC's Junior College team is currently the top-ranked program in the country. Former Red Devil Zireycus Letman is the leading receiver for the JuCo Bulldogs.
The Red Devils are now 3-3 overall and 2-1 in Region 7-A. Aquinas improved to 6-0 overall and 3-0 in Region 7-A. The Irish, with students from multiple counties in two states, should have a clear run to the region title and a good spot in the Class A Private playoff bracket.
The 42 points allowed Friday night is the third most during Larry Campbell's tenure, and the most since 1972 other than the 55-14 loss to Washington-Wilkes in 2001. Only four times has a Campbell team allowed more than 40 points, and two of those were by Aquinas. The Irish's last victory was 45-0 in 1972, with 32 losses in-between. The 42 points is the eighth most allowed by Lincolnton teams since 1922.
The 28-point losing margin is the most since the 41-point deficit in the 2001 W-W game. The only other 2 games during The Campbell Years with larger losing margins came in 1972.
The Red Devils got off to a good start Friday night, taking the opening kickoff and driving 80 yards in 13 plays to take a 7-0 lead. Mike McIntire went untouched on the right side for the final 17 yards to paydirt with 7:20 left in the opening period. The big play on the drive was a 9-yard pass from Ben Turner to Jamar Norman on 3rd-&-8 at the Aquinas 31. Norman made a great catch over the middle in traffic. Earlier Norman had a 15-yard run and Turner had a 13-yard scamper. James Spratlin booted the PAT.
Aquinas took the succeeding kickoff, and, like it would be for most of the game, it was Ruben Garnett, Ruben Garnett, and Ruben Garnett. The outstanding junior running back, with the blocking of the big and experienced Irish offensive line, was nearly unstoppable by the outmanned Devil Defense. Garnett carried on eight of the nine plays on the drive. Aquinas scored on a 17-yard pass with 4:36 left in the quarter. The PAT kick tied the game at 7.
The Devils gained a first down on their next drive before an interception put the Irish in business at the LC 46. Other than one pass, it was all Garnett again, scoring from the 2 with 9:07 left in the half. The kick gave the visitors a 14-7 lead.
Norman broke a long return to the Irish 47. McIntire gained 8 before Turner had runs of 6, 3, and 8. It was after the first of those that senior lineman Andy Ray Wengrow left the game with an apparent knee injury; it has since been learned that the injury is a bruise, and the line leader should return to action soon. McIntire went the remainder on runs of 2, 6, 13, and the final yard for the touchdown. Spratlin's kick tied the region game at 14-all with 5:42 left before the bands played.
Garnett proved he could go the long distance on the next drive as he scored on a 58-yard run with 4:38 left in the half. The kick hit an upright and bounced back into the endzone, leaving the score 20-14.
An onside kickoff attempt by Aquinas backfired and the Devils took over at the Irish 48. Turner passed 9 yards to Norman before a sack pushed the Devils back. Garnett proved he could also play defense as he intercepted the next pass and returned it into LC territory. The Devil Defense forced a punt to avoid the threat. The halftime score remained 20-14 in favor of Aquinas.
The second half was more of the first for the Irish, with Garnett, Garnett, Garnett. He rushed 8 times to move Aquinas was thier 35 to the LC 29. He then caught a quick pass and went the distance for the touchdown with 7:06 left in the third. The PAT pass attempt was good, giving the Irish a 28-14 lead.
Lakeith Lockhart took over at quarterback and scampered 20 yards to the LC 40. McIntire rushed for 16 and Lockhart 21 yards to the Aquinas 30. McIntire gained 6, then Lockhart for 3. Two runs by McIntire gained 3 yards, setting up 4th-&-4 at the Aquinas 18. Lockhart passed to Jalen Smith, but a measurement showed the effort was short of the line to make.
Aquinas took over on downs at its 15, and ran off over 8 minutes on a 16-play drive that ended with Garnett scoring on a two-yard run with 6:15 left in the game. With the kick Aquinas led 35-14.
The Devils picked up two first downs on their next drive but turned the ball over on downs near midfield with just under four minutes left in the contest. Aquinas, mostly using a new set of backs, scored on an 8-yard run with 54 seconds left.
The Devils' final possession ended with an interception as the final second ticked off in the 42-14 loss.
Garnett finished with 42 carries for 291 yards and 3 touchdowns, plus two receptions for 35 yards and a touchdown. In total offense the Irish had 59 plays for 421 yards, compared to 53 for 288 for the Devils. McIntire finished the night with 18 carries for 114 yards and two touchdowns.
Kickoff in Milledgeville is set for 7:30. The field is on the GMC main grounds, with parking across the street at their gym.