LINCOLNTON, Ga. — Lincoln County rode three goal-line stands to a second-round shutout of the defending state champions, and for the effort it will get another date with its top-ranked nemesis.
The Red Devils stuffed Clinch County’s Southeastern Conference-bound rushers 11 times inside the 10-yard line in the second and third quarters en route to a 27-0 victory at Buddy Bufford Field on Friday night.
Next up is No. 1 Savannah Christian in a battle of unbeatens at a site to be determined by a 10 a.m. coin toss today at Burke County High School.
“There ain’t no justice,” Red Devils coach Larry Campbell said of the prospect of facing the team that eliminated his squad in the past two postseasons. “They’re a small college.”
Craig Jones, who rushed for 115 yards and two touchdowns, said the Red Devils are eager for a rematch after losing 17-14 in Lincolnton last year and 7-0 the year before in Savannah.
“We’re up for it,” Jones said. “Revenge. Can’t go three-peat. We play as a team like we did today, we’ll beat them.”
The Red Devils made all the big plays on both sides of the ball Friday against another familiar postseason foe. Clinch County and Lincoln County have met nine times in the playoffs, with the Red Devils now owning a 5-4 series lead. They have split two meetings in Class A championship games.
Friday seemed destined for another close bout until the Red Devils’ defense kept coming up huge.
A pair of one-play touchdown strikes, a pair of special-teams plays and a pair of goal-line stands staked the Red Devils to a 20-0 lead at halftime. They added another goal-line stand at the 1 on the opening possession of the third quarter to take the heart out of the Panthers.
“We really felt like they were going to run the football,” said Campbell, who said defensive coordinator Kevin Banks installed a six-man front especially for the game to stop Clinch’s burly quarterback Fred Tiller (a Kentucky commit) and tailback Rashad Grant (an Ole Miss recruit).
After Lincoln County took a 6-0 lead in the first quarter on a 7-yard Jones run, Clinch County drove to the Red Devils 3 thanks to a fourth-down pass interference penalty that kept the drive alive.
After a fumbled pitch that lost 4 yards, the Panthers opted to go for it on fourth down. Sherrod Jones tackled receiver Dalton Bennett in the open field for a 3-yard loss.
Max Ashmore gave the Red Devils some breathing room with a booming 56-yard punt.
When the defense held on three plays, Dayshawn Taylor blocked Clinch County’s punt and Lincoln County recovered at the Panther 11. Jones went untouched up the middle on the next play for a 12-0 lead.
“Our special teams coach (Mark) Hill said we were going to block it, and we blocked it,” Campbell said.
It took only one snap on the next possession for Lincoln County to strike again, with Denzel Gunby hitting a wide-open Mason Saggus at midfield, and Saggus streaked the rest of the way for a 68-yard touchdown. Gunby’s two-point pass to Jet Marshall made it 20-0.