On a blustery, chilly Halloween night on Buddy Bufford Field, Lincoln County's Red Devils almost pulled the biggest upset of the year before finally falling to the Aquinas Irish 15-13 in the battle for the Region 7-A Subregion B title.
On November 7, Lincoln County will host Stratford Academy of Macon, the number two team from Subregion A. The Eagles are 6-3 and won the GISA Class AAA football championship last year before moving to the GHSA. Earlier this season Stratford barely lost to Aquinas 28-27. The Irish will host Tattnall Square of Macon to decide the Region 7-A title.
After an off week November 14, the Class A Public playoffs will start November 21. Although it won't be certain until after the November 7 games, the Devils look to make the playoffs and be on the road the first round. A win over Stratford could improve their seeding and possibly the Devils will host a first round game.
Aquinas, ranked #1 in Class A, is now the winner of 23 straight games. The 15 points the Irish scored last Friday are the fewest during that stretch. That is a great testament to the Devil Defense, whose play was much improved over the previous week. Irish star back Ruben Garnett was held to 122 yards and zero rushing touchdowns, although he did score on a 40-yard pass. That touchdown pass, along with an earlier 50-yard toss, did the most damage during the game.
The Devils won the coin toss and elected to receive the opening kickoff, but the pigskin proved elusive as the kick was muffed inside the 5 and the Devil return man had to cover in the endzone. The resulting safety gave the visitors a two-point lead just seven seconds into the contest.
The ghosts and goblins must have decided they would have fun with fielding kicks this Halloween night, as the Irish mishandled the kick from the 20 after the safety. The Red Devils recovered at their 37. Three plays came up a yard short of a first down, so the Devils punted to the Irish.
Aquinas gained two first downs on the running of Garnett before the Devil Defense stopped the drive at the LC 42. After a punt, Big Red started from its eight with Jamar Norman rushing for 13 and LaKeith Lockhart running for 11. A pass interference call against the Irish moved the ball into Aquinas territory.
Three runs by Quay Hartfield gained 25 yards to the Aquinas 23. Lockhart rushed for nine before an illegal procedure penalty cost the Devils five yards. Hartfield ran for six more before Ryan O'Neill booted a 31-yard field goal with 11:49 left in the half. The Devils led 3-2.
Aquinas ate up nearly six minutes on their next drive before a 40-yard field goal attempt went way right. The Devils were unable to make a first down and punted to the Aquinas 37. Garnett rushed for 13 before Aquinas scored on a 50-yard pass. The PAT run was stopped short, but the Augusta private school led 8-3 with 3:24 left before the bands took the field.
Starting from its 20, the Devils put together a 13-play drive that include good runs of 10 and 13 yards by Hartfield. O'Neill kicked a 25-yard field goal as the half ended, cutting the Irish lead to 8-6.
After the Red Devil Pride Band's Thriller performance, and the young ladies twirled, the Irish took the second-half kickoff and picked up one first down at the LC 48. The Devil Defense twice stopped Garnett on short runs, forcing a 4th-and-2 at the LC 40. Aquinas then threw to Garnett on the right side; the senior broke five tackles on his way to the endzone. With the extra point, the Irish led 15-6 with 8:35 remaining in the third.
The defenses took over on the cold night, as each team punted on their next possessions until midway the final quarter. The Devils started from their 24. An 8-yard pass from Lockhart to Norman for 8 yards picked up a first down at the LC 36. Lockhart scooted for 17, 4, 2, and 23 to the LC 18. Hartfield ran for 5. Lockhart-to-Norman gained 5 and a first down at the 8. Norman rushed for 5 before Lockhart kept the pigskin for 3 and a touchdown. O'Neill's kick cut the lead to 15-13, but there were only 127 seconds left in the contest.
The Devils kicked short but the Irish recovered at their 43. The Devil Defense stuffed Garnett on three consecutive carries, forcing a punt with 1:08. With the clock ticking down, the Devils tried a pass from their 27, but the Irish intercepted at the 46. Aquinas ran out the last minute to avoid the upset and continue their winning streak.
For the game, the Devils made 17 first downs to 10 for the Irish. In yards, the Devils ran 55 plays for 268 yards compared to 38 for 237 for Aquinas.
Lockhart led the Devils with 16 carries for 117 yards and the only LC TD. Norman ran 13 times for 64 yards, and Hartfield rushed 13 times for 62 yards.