This Friday at Buddy Bufford Field, the Lincoln County Red Devils will face their toughest challenge of the season as the top-ranked Aquinas Irish come to Larry Campbell Stadium.
Aquinas, the defending Class A Private state champion, has won 22 games in a row. Its head coach has never had to give the "we lost" speech to his team after a game.
The Irish's victory in Augusta last year was their first over the Red Devils since 1972, and to some meant more than the state championship they would go on to win. Reports indicate the game ball for their Lincoln County win was auctioned at the school fundraiser for $4,000, twice the amount for the state title game ball.
Aquinas has several offensive weapons, both passing and rushing. Senior back Ruben Garnett rushed for nearly 300 yards against Big Red last year.
A win this Friday would give the Red Devils the Region 7-A Subregion B championship and earn the Devils the right to play the Subregion A champion for the Region 7-A title. A victory almost assures the Devils a spot in the playoffs.
The region champion gets an automatic berth in the playoffs. The rest of the 16-team Public field will depend on power ratings. The Devils had moved up to 14th prior to the GMC game.
Last Friday, before a big crowd in Milledgeville at GMC's homecoming and alumni weekend, the Devils jumped to a very early lead and then held on in the fourth quarter for a 34-21 win over the Bulldogs.
MiDarious Roberts returned the opening kickoff 65 yards for a touchdown. The PAT kick was slightly right, but the Devils led 6-0 twelve seconds into the game.
The Devils forced a punt on the Bulldogs' first possession. Starting from its 42, Lincoln ran 11 rushing plays until Jamar Norman scored from five yards out with 5:36 showing on the first quarter clock. Big plays on the drive were runs of 15 and 12 yards by Roberts. Ryan O'Neill booted the PAT for a 13-0 Red Devil advantage.
Tydarius Elam broke up a pass to help end the Bulldog's next possession short of a first down.
The Devils overcame two holding penalties on their next drive. Quay Hartfield had runs of 9, 6, and 14 yards on the possession before LaKeith Lockhart passed 15 yards to Norman for 1st-&-goal at the GMC 6. Norman gained five before Lockhart kept the pigskin and pushed into the endzone. With O'Neill's successful extra point effort, the Devils led 20-0 with 9:10 left before halftime.
Mixing rushing and passing, the Bulldogs put together a nine-play, 72-yard scoring drive. Passes of 30 and 33 yards were the big gainers on the drive that kept GMC in the game. The Bulldogs star running back, T. J. Lowe, scored the touchdown from six yards out. The Devils' lead was cut to 20-7 with 3:53 left in the second quarter.
Lincoln County threatened again on the next possession, thanks to a 41-yard run by Norman to the GMC 23. The Devils came up just short on fourth down, returning the ball to GMC at the 14.
GMC hit on a 36-yard pass to the LC 35, but a sack by the Devil Defense helped end the drive.
The Bulldogs took the second half kickoff and ran off 17 plays and nearly 10 minutes. The Devils had stopped the Bulldogs at midfield but a running-into-kicker penalty gave the home team another chance and they made the first down. Flowe scored on a 6-yard run with 2:11 left in the third. With the PAT, the Bulldogs pulled to within six points, 20-14.
Marquis Leverett returned the succeeding kickoff 50 yards to the GMC 48. Jayden Robinson rushed for three. Hartfield then took the handoff and went cross-field for 45 yards and a touchdown. O'Neill's kick with 1:11 left in the third returned the Devils' lead to 13 points, 27-14.
GMC continued its ball- and clock-control offensive efforts, grinding out 12 plays for 82 yards. Flowe again scored, this time from 10 yards out. The drive included one questionable personal foul called on the Devils when the officials appeared to be slow in whistling the play dead. GMC trailed 27-21 with plenty of time (7:24) left in the contest. Flowe finished the game with 163 yards and three TDs on 35 carries.
The Devils managed one first down on its next possession, and punted to the GMC 33 with 3:47 remaining. Jaelyn Jones intercepted on third down, with the Devils taking possession (after a penalty) at the LC 49.
Lockhart kept the pigskin, threaded his way through two blockers at the line of scrimmage, then outraced everyone to paydirt. The 51-yard run, plus O'Neill's extra point, all but put the game away with 1:50 left.
A penalty pushed the Bulldogs deep in their territory to start their next possession. The Devils stopped the drive and took over on downs at the GMC 17 with just under a minute left. Big Red ran out the clock from that point.
Hartfield finished the game with 88 yards and one touchdown on 10 carries. Norman ran nine times for 85 yards and one score. Lockhart scored twice on six runs for 49 yards.
GO RED DEVILS!