COMMERCE - Two fourth quarter turnovers cost the Lincoln County Red Devils in their quest for the Region 8-A Public football championship. The Commerce Tigers won 17-7 here last Friday night.
The Devils needed to win by six points or more to claim the region title in what would have been a three-way tie with Commerce and Washington-Wilkes. They would have placed second to Commerce with a victory by five or less. The three-way tie-breaker was point differential in region games, with a maximum of 15 points per game.
Lincoln County, finishing third in the region, will make a four-hour trek to Cusseta to play the Chattahoochee County Panthers. This will be the first meeting between the Red Devils and the Columbus-area school. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 Friday night.
The Panthers were undefeated until last Friday when they fell 19-12 to Macon County in the game that decided the Region 5-A Public title. All but one of their eight wins has been by more than a touchdown. They are enjoying their best season since a 9-2 mark over a decade ago.
Commerce took the opening kickoff and drove to the LC 36 before the Devil Defense forced a punt that went into the endzone.
Tevin Gartrell almost broke free but was tackled by the last defender for a 14-yard gain to the LC 38. He then caught an eight-yard pass from Keenon Lampkin, who ran for three more on the next play. Semaji Jenkins rushed for 11 yards on two carries to reach the Tiger 40. Three plays later Jenkins ran for nine to the Tiger 26.
Colton Willis broke two tackles at the line of scrimmage and rambled for 19 yards for 1st-&-goal at the 7. Lampkin rushed for three before Gartrell scored from four yards out. Tristan Tankersley booted the PAT for a 7-0 lead with 10:53 remaining in the second quarter.
The two teams swapped punts with the Tigers starting from their 44 after a short Devil punt. A questionable pass interception call against the Devils setup a one-yard touchdown run with 1:42 left in the half. The PAT tied the game at 7-all.
A good kickoff return by Gartrell gave the Devils some momentum. A nine-yard pass on 3rd-&-long moved the pigskin to the LC 37. A 14-yard pass from Lampkin to Caleb Willis put the Devils at the Tiger 49 with 11 seconds left. Another quick out by the same combination gained five. Lampkin heaved a Hail Mary pass which Caleb Willis caught near the 10. As he was being tackled, he tossed the ball to Johnny Wise who gained a few more yards before he was brought down to end the half.
The Devils went three-and-out to open the second half. The Tigers drove from their 40 to the LC 30 before turning the ball over on downs.
A 29-yard pass from Lampkin to Caleb Willis earned the Devils a first down at the Tiger 40. Lampkin then hit Colton Willis on the right for 12 yards. Gartrell rushed for three and Colton Willis for six. Lampkin's QB dive gave the Devils a first down at the Tiger 17.
Colton Willis rushed for two and then over seven. A measurement showed that the Devils were a foot shy of a first down at the 7. A pass fell incomplete. An illegal procedure call cost the Devils five yards, back to the 13. An end-around reverse gained only two, turning the ball over to Commerce with 2:04 left in the third.
The Tigers made one first down before punting to the Devils a minute into the final quarter with the game still tied. A 17-yard pass from Lampkin to Caleb Willis gave the Devils a first down at the LC 40. Gartrell rushed for nine yards. A deep pass attempt went awry and was intercepted and returned to midfield.
The Devil Defense was stern against the strong Commerce running game, keeping three runs to a total of eight yards. On 4th-&-2 at the LC 42, a Tiger struggled to get through the line of scrimmage, but then broke through and was off to the endzone. The touchdown came with 6:13 left in the contest. The kick was good and the Tigers led 14-7.
The Devils started from their 20 after the kickoff sailed into the endzone. Two runs netted only three yards. The Devils ran a double reverse, but loss the handle to the pigskin in the backfield. Commerce recovered at the LC 16. The Tigers rushed for five yards on three plays before kicking a 28-yard field goal. The Tigers led 17-7 with only 3:07 left.
Penalties on both teams highlighted the Devils' final drive, which ended on downs at their 34. The Tigers took a knee to run out the final seconds of the contest that decided the Region 8-A Public championship.
Lampkin finished the night with 11 completions on 21 attempts for 160 yards and the one interception. Caleb Willis led the receiving corps with six grabs for 108 yards. Colton Willis led the rushers with 10 carries for 49 yards, followed by Gartrell with thirty yards on seven attempts.
The Devils totaled 273 yards on 38 offensive plays. The Tigers gained 193 yards (all rushing) on 43 plays.
Commerce is the Region 8-A Public champion. Those Tigers, along with second-place Washington-Wilkes, will host playoff games this Friday.