Not even 24 hours into its preparation for a Class A state quarterfinal matchup with Wilcox County, Lincoln County had already caught a huge break.
The Red Devils (11-1) won a coin flip for the right to be the home team and will play host to the Patriots (12-0) at 7:30 p.m. Friday. A coin flip was used to determine the home site because both teams are region champions.
Wilcox County was the home team a year ago when it eliminated Lincoln County from the playoffs, rallying from a three-touchdown hole to win 34-24. The Patriots eventually lost to Emanuel County Institute, 41-21, in the state title game.
The Patriots haven't lost since that game and beat Region 7-A runner-up Wilkinson County 30-14 this year. Lincoln County blanked Wilkinson 20-0 on Halloween to win the region. Wilkinson, interestingly enough, is still alive and meets Turner County on Friday.
MUTUAL RESPECT: It was probably difficult for Strom Thurmond's players to appreciate what a well-played game their 12-7 loss to Central was Friday night.
The first meeting between the two schools left both coaches praising the game, the atmosphere and their opponent.
"Being a coach in South Carolina for 25 years, I've got a lot of respect for their program," Strom Thurmond's Lee Sawyer said. "It was a well-played, classy game ... a hard-hitting game between two great programs."
Said Central coach Joey Mangum , "That was one of the classiest groups we've ever played against. Both teams played their hearts out. They respected each other."
The teams combined for just five penalties -- Strom Thurmond had one for five yards -- and were exceptional on defense. Only one of the game's 19 possessions, the first, resulted in a sustained touchdown drive.
KICKING GAME DIFFERENCE: Central's precision punting game forced the Rebels to begin four drives inside their own 12-yard line.
Its last punt was the most clutch. It rolled to a stop at the 2 with 1:15 to play. On the next play, Strom Thurmond quarterback Javon Brown, out of the shogun, slipped in the end zone for a safety.
Central's punting "was the key for sure," Sawyer said.
NEW FOE FOR JAGS: Unlike the past two seasons, Thomas Jefferson Academy will not be meeting Flint River for the GISA Class A state title.
The Jaguars will play host to Terrell Academy on Friday night. Flint River is in Class AA this season.
Terrell thumped Westwood 51-10 in the semifinals. The Jaguars have eliminated Terrell from the playoffs the past two seasons with 35-28 and 28-13 wins.
Flint River, by the way, will play for the Class AA state title next week against Savannah's Memorial Day.
PASS-HAPPY DEVILS: Williston-Elko, which will meet Scott's Branch for South Carolina's Class A Division II state title this Friday, attempted 14 passes in its 40-32 win over Ware Shoals on Friday. That's plenty for a team that has been very effective running the ball and is fond of the wishbone formation.
Defending state champion Blackville-Hilda fell to Scott's Branch by two points in the other semifinal. It was the first loss for Blackville-Hilda since Oct. 26, 2007. Coincidently, that was to Williston-Elko.
Reach Matt Middleton at (706) 823-3425 or email@example.com
RUSHING: Stephen Balentine, Wardlaw Academy 29 carries, 151 yards
PASSING: Terrell Brigham, Burke County 18-for-26, 250 yards, two TDs
RECEIVING: Bobby Burum, Burke County 8 catches, 102 yards, one TD