LINCOLNTON, Ga. — It’s been 39 years since Lincoln County failed to reach the football postseason, but Larry Campbell wasn’t counting.
“Phew, I couldn’t tell you,” Campbell said when asked about the last time his team didn’t advance. “But this is the first time we’ve had that fear. Now that it’s in somebody else’s hands and not in Lincoln County’s hands. That’s scary.”
The cause for rare concern in Lincolnton is the new split playoff system devised exclusively for Class A after the Georgia High School Association separated the public and private schools in the playoffs to avoid a mass walkout by disgruntled public schools.
That means only 16 public and 16 private schools will qualify for the postseason, and only the eight region champions are guaranteed a playoff spot regardless of classification. The remaining “wild cards” in each bracket will be seeded entirely based on a complicated mathematical power poll.
“This thing that scares me to death is this poll,” Campbell said. “The only team that’s guaranteed a playoff spot is the region winner. After that a power poll that nobody understands yet will decide who goes. There’s going to be some Class A schools having a fit when they don’t make the top 16.”
What disappoints Campbell the most is that the poll system was adopted several months after the schools had to submit schedules April 1. Lincoln County originally had a contract to play Class AAAAA Greenbrier but honored the Columbia County school’s request to back out.
That decision already cost the Red Devils eight guaranteed points (regardless of outcome) in the poll for playing a team four classifications higher.
“We would not have done that if he knew about the power poll,” Campbell said.
Instead, the Red Devils will be seeking an automatic spot with a 33rd region title since 1974 with quarterbacks who’ve never taken a snap and inexperienced lines on both sides of the ball.
“I think we’re going to be alright,” he said. “Our skill positions are pretty good. Our offensive and defensive lines got a ways to go.”
Lincoln County’s strength is running back, with Mike McIntire heading a four-man corps that includes Dayshawn Taylor, Jamar Norman and Quadarious Hunter.
All three receivers are also proven, led by talented Zireycus Letman returning to full strength from a torn ACL last year.
But getting the ball to them will be a challenge with junior quarterback Ben Turner and sophomore Lakeith Lockhart trying to solidify the job. Of even greater concern are fronts that lost three scholarship players from last year and returns only junior Andy Ray Wengrow.
The Red Devils return punter Max Ashmore and placekicker James Spratlin.
While Lincoln County won’t have to worry about being eliminated from the postseason for the third consecutive season by a private school, the revamped Region 7-A schedule includes newcomer First Presbyterian which Campbell described as “Macon’s Savannah Christian.”
“I couldn’t name who’s going to go from our region because there’s so many good football teams,” he said. “Wilkinson County returns 10 on each side. Aquinas has two of the best running backs in the area. … It’s going to be tough.”