Lincoln County's seventh semi-final visit to the Georgia Dome proved to be one of its more enjoyable as the Red Devils overcame Johnson County's three big plays enroute to a 48-21 whipping of the Trojans.
Our Red Devils will make their 21st visit to state football finals next week against the winner of the Bowdon vs. Washington-Wilkes game, scheduled for a 3:00 kickoff Saturday afternoon.
Going into the game, the primary question was whether Lincoln County could run against the Trojan defense. The Devils quickly answered that query, driving from their 40 to the JC 12 on 5 running plays. Shawntavious Jennings picked up most of the yardage, 32 on 4 carries. Brandon Barden then connected with Alex Bradford, who used his hand to keep his balance into the endzone for the first points. Rontae Norman's PAT kick gave the Devils a 7-0 lead with 8:54 to go in the first quarter.
Johnson County came right back, finding its receiver wide open on a 54-yard pass play with 6:53 left. Their kicker tied the game at 7-all. After a Lincoln punt, the Trojans drove from their 15 to the Lincoln 43. Johnson threw the ball, with a Devil defender tipping the ball to the Trojan receiver, who scored with 11:54 remaining in the half. Johnson had stunned the Lincoln faithful by taking a 14-7 lead.
But this team of Devils didn't miss a beat. Ricardo Norman gained 14 and then 11, followed by a 15-yard run by Darrell Norman. Jennings then went up the middle untouched for 27 yards to paydirt. Rontae's kick tied the game at 14.
Big Red forced a Trojan punt which Rontae returned 56 yards to the JC 28. Tyler Beale rushed for 4 and 7, and then Ricardo gained 3 to the 15. Barden tossed to Rontae for the touchdown with 5:39 left in the half.
The Devil defense started getting to the Trojan QB. Jennings recovered a fumble and returned it 5 yards to the JC 5. Darrell rushed for 3 yards and then 1 for 3rd-&-goal at the 1. Barden then snuck into the endzone for the touchdown with 4:06 left in the half and the Devils leading 29-14.
After a Johnson punt, Rontae broke loose for 61 yards but had the ball knocked loose at the 5 to prevent an important touchdown. Three plays later, Johnson put the ball on the ground with Chase McGill recovering at the Johnson 15. An illegal block in the backfield pushed the Devils back to the JC 41. On 4th-&-27 from the 32, Barden connected with Ricardo in the endzone for an apparent touchdown, but the closest official said our receiver committed offensive interference. (Many in attendance and watching on TV disagreed with the call.) The penalty includes loss-of-down, which, on 4th down, gave Johnson the ball at their 47. A sack by Kiece Crite effectively ended the threat.
The fumble and nullified TD at the close of the second quarter loomed very large 12 seconds into the second half as Johnson County returned the opening kickoff about 80 yards for a touchdown. The PAT kick cut the Devil's margin to only 8 points. A fumble to end the Devils' next possession seemed to contribute to the momentum shift to Johnson County, with some on the Lincoln side remembering Trion's 24-point comeback against our Devils two years ago in the Dome.
But this team was determined to cut short any comeback. The Devils forced Johnson to punt, then ran nearly 6 minutes off the clock before Barden punted to the Trojan 10. After another Johnson punt, the Devils started from their 34. Two plays lost 19 yards, to the 15. On 3rd-&-19 with 30 seconds left in the third quarter, the Devil offensive line showed again its domination, as Jennings broke through an opening, shrugged two tacklers, and outran Johnson County 85 yards to the end zone. Rontae booted the PAT for a 35-21 lead into the fourth.
The Devil Defense stopped the Johnson ballcarrier for a short gain on 4th-&-4, with the Devils taking over at the JC 48 with 10:08 to go. Fullback Beale and the offensive line again showed their dominance, with Beale rushing for 8, 8, and then 5. Ricardo got 6 yards on 3rd-&-5 for a first down at the 21. Shawntavious gained 3, Ricardo 5, and Tyler 5 for a 1st-&-goal at the 8. A fumble lost two yards before Darrell Norman went around right end for a 10-yard touchdown with 5:47 left. The Devil faithful finally felt somewhat comfortable with a 41-21 lead with less than 6 minutes left.
Two fumbles and a hard-hitting Devil Defense stopped Johnson on its next possession, with Lincoln taking over at the Johnson 23 on downs. With the Devil offense playing substitutes, Franklin Jones scored from the 3 with 2:28 left. Rontae's PAT kick provided the final margin, 48-21.
The Trojans managed only 2 first downs in the second half, as the Devil Defense allowed only 41 rushing yards on 14 carries in the final two quarters.
Shawntavious Jennings led the Devil rushing attack with 163 yards and 2 TDs on 10 carries. Darrell Norman gained 67 yards on 12 carries, and Rontae Norman rushed 4 times for 62 yards. Tyler Beale gained 49 on 8.
The 48 points scored is the second most in Georgia Dome Semi-Final history. Brooks County defeated Central Talbotton 50-26 in 1994. The 3:36 PM kickoff was the first during mid-afternoon for the Devils in many years.
Links to newspaper stories and photos from the game:
Augusta Chronicle: Devils Tradition Gets a New Chapter
Augusta Chronicle: Devils Roll into [21st] State Title Game
AP at Augusta Chronicle: Lincoln County Tops Johnson County
AJC: Lincoln Headed to Campbell's 17th State Final