The game may have started in the bright sunlight for the first time, but the result was the same -- a close, nail-biting game that ended with less than 7 points separating Lincoln County and Commerce.
Devil turnovers and officiating kept the game close. The Devil Defense bent but only broke once. The Devil Offense moved the ball on the ground and in the air.
The early 6 PM kickoff meant the first half was played in the hot sunlight. Commerce took the opening kickoff at their 17. C. J. Norman intercepted a Tiger pass on the first play from scrimmage, but the Athens area officials called Lincoln for roughing the quarterback and thus nullifying the interception. Two plays later Tiger James Rucker broke loose for 58 yards when he was aided by a clear hold by a Commerce receiver. The Devil Defense stiffened, stopping the Tigers inside the Devil 10 on 3 plays. A 23-yard field goal with 9:14 left in the first quarter put Commerce up 3-0.
Lincoln County came right back, with Gavin Williams, Darrell Norman, and Shawntavius Jennings gaining good yardage on the ground. Facing a 3rd-&-3 at the Tiger 23, QB Cord Coppin gained 12 yards on a big run when he stayed inbounds for extra yardage. Two plays later a holding penalty put the Devils at the Tiger 22 with 3rd-&-21. Steven Brown made a diving catch at the 2 for 4th-&-1. LCHS then ran their "meat" backfield into the game, with Shawntavius Jennings going up-and-over for the touchdown with 1:57 left in the quarter. The PAT kick was wide right, leaving the Devils up 6-3.
The Devil Defense made a huge stop when the Tigers went for the first down on a 4th-&-3 at their own 48. LC picked up 8 yards before a fumble ended the possession. Starting from their 45, the Tigers drove down the field. An interference call started the drive well for the Tigers. Rucker picked up much of the yardage, including the final yard with 4:49 left in the half. The PAT kick gave Commerce a 10-6 lead.
But our Devils again came right back. Showing confidence, Coppin converted on a 4th-&-1 at his 33 with a 2 yard run. One play later, he found Brown for 21 yards tot he Tiger 32. He came back with the same play, this time with Brown stopped at the 1. One play later, Coppin did the honors, scoring from the 1 with 9 seconds left in the half. The two-point pass attempt failed, but Lincoln led 12-10 at intermission.
The Devil passing attack remained hotto start the third quarter. Coppin found Brown for 17 to convert on 3rd-&-11. Brandon Barden again proved he has great hands when he made an acrobatic catch from Coppin for a 33-yard gain to the Tiger 14. Unfortunately, a fumble 3 plays later ended the Devil threat. Commerce then drove back down the field, thanks mainly to a 46-yard run by the Tiger QB. The officials awarded two first downs when many observers thought a measurement was in order. With a 1st-&-goal at the 8, Deonte Norman stopped Rucker for a 2-yard loss. The line then stopped Rucker for no gain before an offsides penalty gave the Tigers 5 yards. A 22-yard field goal returned Commerce to the lead, 13-12, with 2:40 left in the third quarter.
After the kickoff, Jennings gained 17 for a first down at the Lincoln 38. An illegal procedure penalty pushed the Devils back 5. Gavin Williams then had two of his best runs of the 2004, for 11 and 13 yards. On 2nd-&-9 at the Tiger 42, Coppin connected with C. J. Norman on the right side. Norman looked to be tackled for little gain, but the senior running back broke several tackles and into the clear to the endzone. The PAT pass failed, but the Devils led 18-13 with 23 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Devil Defense forced the Tigers back 13 yards on 3 plays for a 4th-&-23 at the Tiger 28 early in the fourth. The Tigers had to punt. But the game was played in Tiger Stadium, and strange things seem to happen when Lincoln County is there. The punt was almost blocked and bounced up the field, where it apparently hit a Devil and was recovered by the Tigers at their 38. Thanks mainly to a 20-yard run by the Tiger QB, Commerce drove for a 1st-&-10 at the LC 13. Rucker gained 5, and a facemask penalty added 4 for 1st-&-1 at the 4. Pressure from the Devil Defense forced a fumble that Commerce covered at the 15, according to the officials. Two incomplete passes turned the ball over to Lincoln with 3:31 left in the game.
The Devils picked up one first down but were unable to run out the clock. Commerce brought everyone to block the punt, but Barden booted the ball 39 yards with 1:40 left. Four plays lost one yard, and Lincoln took over at the Tiger 34 with 55 seconds left. One kneel down play cemented the victory.
Our Red Devils are now 3-1, while the Tigers fall to 2-3. Lincoln leads the series 7-4, with six of the 11 games decided by 7 points or less. This rivalry has developed over the past 5 seasons to be one of the classics in Georgia high school football.