LINCOLNTON, Ga. — The momentum reversed Friday night in one of the state’s most heated rivalries.
In the 75th installment of the Highway 378 War, Washington-Wilkes dominated for 40 minutes then hung on for a 21-6 victory Friday night at Buddy Bufford Field.
Buck Robinson passed for 186 yards and two touchdowns while Tomarkus Young rushed for 114 yards and a touchdown for the Tigers (2-0), who had lost nine of the last 10 in the series.
“The tide is turning in this rivalry, I’m going to go ahead and say that right now,” said Washington-Wilkes’ second-year coach Robby Robinson after his Tigers rolled up 353 balanced yards and raced to a 21-0 lead by the fourth quarter. “Great win for us in the rivalry and hopefully this is a sign that the tide had turned for Washington-Wilkes.”
Robinson felt confident his team was ready to turn the corner in the recently lopsided series, which the Red Devils still lead 36-33-6 after 90 years of neighborly competition.
“I feel like we’re making gains, and ultimately, it’s going to swing back in our favor,” Robinson said before Friday’s 75th meeting.
The Tigers came out with the most dominant performance in years against the Red Devils, who are ranked No. 1 in Class A, to open up a 14-0 halftime lead that could have been larger. Four times Washington-Wilkes got inside the Lincoln County 20-yard line, twice failing to convert on fourth downs.
But the Tigers got a pair of Buck Robinson touchdown passes.
The first came after Terez Norman recovered a muffed punt reception by Zireycus Letman at the Lincoln County 3. On second down from the 11, Robinson hit Brian Hardigree open over the middle on the first play of the second quarter.
The second score capped a 13-play, 82-yard drive that ate up nearly six minutes. On fourth-and-8 from the 18, Robinson rolled left out of the pocket after Tomarkus Young picked up a blitz by Jalen Franklin. Robinson then hit Jalen Turner uncovered in the left corner of the end zone. Jordan Hall’s second point-after kick made it 14-0 with 5:01 left.
It was as dominant a first-half thrashing as Larry Campbell’s Red Devils have ever received. By halftime, Washington-Wilkes had racked up 248 total yards (111 rushing, 137 passing) and 13 first downs. Lincoln County gained only 39 yards (15 rushing, 24 passing) and got its only first down with four seconds left in the half.
“That’s not methodical Lincoln County, but when you lose the entire offensive line we’ve got a ways to go,” Red Devils coach Larry Campbell said. “They outplayed us in every phase of the ballgame. Great gameplan, executed to perfection. This wasn’t a great night for Lincoln County football and a great night for Washington-Wilkes.”
Hoping to ignite a second-half rally, Jamar Norman returned a kickoff 44 yards into Tigers territory for the first time, but Red Devils quarterback Ben Turner threw the first of two interceptions on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter.
Turner’s second interception later in the third set up a 28-yard Tiger scoring drive capped by Young’s 3-yard touchdown to make it 21-0 with 10:17 remaining.
Lincoln County finally mounted a drive, going 65 yards in 10 plays to score on Turner’s 2-yard slant pass to Jalen Franklin with 6:39 remaining.
The Red Devils had several chances to rally against the fatigued Tigers, recovering an onsides kick and forcing another fumble in Washington-Wilkes territory. But Lincoln County failed to convert its chances, including a dropped pass by Letman open near the goal line on fourth down.
“We felt like we were in better physical shape than they were in and we wanted to spar with them and spar with them and spar with them and get them in the fourth quarter,” Robinson added. “The took it to us in the fourth quarter and we kept making sloppy mistakes. But our defense kept fighting and fighting.”
The coach’s son completed 15 of 26 passes to seven different receivers with no interceptions.
“We heard a rumor that their secondary would stop our receivers all night,” the young Robinson said. “We showed tonight that we have the best receivers in this region and nobody could stop us.
“It means the world to us. I’ve only been here for two years, but to come in here my senior year and beat Lincoln County on the road is a great way to start off our season right.”
Washington-Wilkes hasn’t finished a season with a winning record since 2008, Russell Morgan’s final year as head coach. Robinson believes the 2-0 start could be the catalyst to a big season in Group AA.
“It’s huge because we’re a young team,” Robinson said. “That’s the No. 1 team in the state right there. They’ve won nine out of 10 in this series. So it’s huge for our confidence. Now we’ve just got to keep it rolling.”