It only gets tougher, but that is as it should be in the playoffs. Lincoln County and Clinch County meet Friday morning at 9:00 in the Georgia Dome to break a 3-3 tie in their 20-year-old rivalry and decide the visitor in next week's Class A championship game.
The Panthers first met our Red Devils in the 1984 semifinals in Lincolnton. The game was a defensive struggle won by Lincoln County 7-2.
As the two teams meet this week, many think the twentieth anniversary of that classic game will be another low-scoring affair. Taking a 0-0 tie into overtime is certainly not out of the question.
Clinch County has a new head coach in 2004, but the Panthers have certainly not skipped a beat. Jim Dickerson was promoted to head coach after Cecil Barber headed to Class AA Jeff Davis (2-8 this season). Dickerson retained his defensive coordinator duties, and the Panthers have one of the best defenses in the state. Through 12 games they had allowed only 140 yards rushing. That's the total for the season, not the average per game!
The Panthers lost their star QB Joe Louis Mingo to graduation. Justin Gainey leads the rushing offense with 1,330 yards, 20 TDs, and a 6.8 yards/carry average. Jared Bighams has 559 yards, followed by Lamar McKnight with 551 yards, 11 TDs, and 2 punt returns for TD.
Bighams and McKight share quarterback duties. Bighams has completed 28 of 71 attempts for 457 yards with 4 touchdowns but 8 interceptions. McKnight is 13 of 46 for 287 yards with 6 scores and 2 picks. Boris Lee is their primary target with 17 catches for 216 yards and 3 TDs.
The Panther's only loss was to Class AA powerhouse Charlton County 28-26 September 3 thanks to a turnover. You'll see plenty of Charlton fans Friday morning, as their Indians play the noon game against Laney of Augusta, and they will be filling in on the Lincoln side of the Dome. (Encourage those fine folks from Folkston to cheer AGAINST their swamp arch-rival Clinch County!) Clinch will join Charlton as the Devils' most frequent playoff opponent with 7 games.
Our Devils last met the Panthers two years ago in Homerville in a quarterfinal matchup where Clinch County was heavily favored and Lincoln County wasn't even supposed to be there. Our Devils gave the eventual state champions all they wanted and more, as LCHS had the lead into the fourth quarter before losing 28-14. Clinch rolled over their final two opponents for a perfect 15-0 season. The Panthers are 38-3-1 in the last three seasons.
Clinch County has won the state football championship three times, in 1988, 1991, and 2002. Each time the Panthers had to get by our Red Devils in the playoffs. (Thanks to Guil Mattison!)
When Lincoln County and Clinch County kickoff Friday morning, our Red Devils will become the first high school team to play six playoff games in the Dome. Our friends at Washington County will tie that record later in the day when they play Cartersville.
The bad weather this week in Lincolnton severely curtailed Lincoln County's regular practice schedule, as work was moved into the gym.