LINCOLNTON, Ga. – Facing another double-digit deficit in the first half, Lincoln County rallied to beat Wilkinson County 21-19 and claim another Region 7-A title and an automatic Class A playoff berth.
Ben Turner rushed for 78 yards and one touchdown and passed for 74 more and another score to Zireycus Letman as No. 3 Lincoln County clinched another title against the No. 10 Warriors from Irwinton, Ga.
Mike McIntire led the Red Devils with 122 rushing yards in the victory.
“We played a heck of a football team,” said Lincoln County head coach Larry Campbell. “The lowest point total they’ve been held to all year was 34 points. They have one heck of a quarterback, great receivers. Secondary played absolutely super. McIntire came through when he had to and the quarterback came through a few times.”
The Red Devils fell behind 13-0 in the second quarter after Wilkinson County scored on a 36-yard fumble return touchdown, but Lincoln County scored 21 points on its next three possessions on both sides of halftime then held off a relentless Warriors comeback effort to stay unbeaten in Region 7-A.
“We’ve been down against Aquinas (trailing 10-0) and came back and won and we were down against First Presbyterian (trailing 14-0) and came back and won that won, too,” said McIntire, who now has 1,063 rushing yards on the season. “We’re pretty much used to it now.”
It still was not a comfortable position to be in against a Wilkinson County team that averages more than 40 points per game.
But immediately after the Warriors went up 13-0, the Red Devils got the spark it needed in a 62-yard kickoff return by Jamar Norman to the Wilkinson County 33. Three plays and one pass interference penalty later, Turner hit Zireycus Letman for a 6-yard touchdown to make it 13-7 before halftime.
“Huge,” Campbell said of Norman’s return and the subsequent touchdown. “We were getting the kickoff in the second half. We felt pretty good at the half.”
Lincoln County took the third quarter kickoff and drove 77 yards in 13 plays, the biggest one a 33-yard deep pass to Letman down to the Warriors 2. On third down at the 1, Turner bowled his way across the goal line and James Spratlin’s point after gave the Red Devils a 14-13 lead.
After forcing the Warriors into a three-and-out, Lincoln County struck again with a 42-yard drive capped by Norman’s 15-yard touchdown run around the right corner for a 21-13 lead.
Wilkinson County (6-3, 5-1) didn’t buckle, however. Aided by two facemask penalties, the Warriors cruised down the field and scored on the first play of the fourth quarter on a 1-yard Shiquez Underwood run. But the Red Devils stuffed Tyler Franklin on the two-point conversion attempt to maintain a 21-19 lead.
Another Red Devils fumble by McIntire set Wilkinson up at the Lincoln County 36, and David Whipple hit Kareem Sanders for 28 yards to the Red Devils 7. But Lincoln’s defense bowed up and two false start penalties forced a failed 38-yard field goal attempt with 8:37 remaining.
Wilkinson County had one more chance left, driving 48 yards to the Lincoln County 23. But on fourth-and-9, Warriors coach James Hagins decided not to try a 40-yard field goal and Whipple threw incomplete out of the end zone with 1:32 left.
Lincoln County converted a first down and ran out the clock to claim the Region 7-A crown that Campbell said ranks among the more satisfying of his career.
“Yes sir, about as much as any we’ve had,” he said. “This puts us as the No. 1 seed unless Hancock (Central) beats us.”
Lincoln County is the top-ranked public school in the Class A ranking, which determine playoff seeding.
Wilkinson County struck first after pinning the Red Devils at the 1 with a punt and forcing a three-and-out. After a 28-yard David Whipple pass to Jamerion Love reached the Lincoln County 2, Tyler Franklin scored on the next play to make it 7-0 early in the second quarter.
The Warriors scored again on a 36-yard fumble return to make it 13-0 after Jalen Franklin coughed it up on a short pass reception.