Ninety years ago, Lincolnton played host to Washington on a Halloween Tuesday in 1922. It was Lincolnton’s first season as a football team and Washington’s fourth.
After the two tied 7-7 – a local paper described it as “a hectic affray” – the natural rivals played again a month later on Thanksgiving in Washington. This time, Washington prevailed, 13-6.
The head coaches – Homer Grice of Washington and W.T. Dunaway of Lincolnton, former college teammates at Mercer – served as officials after the referees didn’t show. But because of apparently bad fan behavior, the schools didn’t play again until 1939. It took only two games for the start of what’s now known as the Highway 378 War for blue and red to forever clash in football between two small Georgia towns.
“Some things change and some things stay the same,” said historian Skeet Willingham, who just released a book titled From Terrors to Tigers: The Story of Wilkes County Football that recalls such events.
“I guess the rivalry was just as intense the first time they played as it is now.”
Tonight, Lincoln County and Washington-Wilkes square off for the 75th time. The Red Devils lead 36-32-6 and have won nine of the past 10. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. at Lincolnton.
Not surprisingly, such a rivalry has had memorable showdowns through the years.
In 1949, the Red Devils beat their rivals for the first time on their 13th attempt with a 14-12 triumph.
“It was a big night; it really was,” said Dan Pitts, who played on Lincolnton’s 1949 team. “I think half of Lincolnton went up to Washington and rode around the square a few times, blowing the horns.”
In 1960, Lincolnton won 25-19. Neither team lost the rest of the season as both won their first state titles.
But the biggest game probably was in 2005. After first playing each other in the regular season, the schools met again in Lincolnton for the Class A state championship. The Red Devils won 25-0.
“Washington-Wilkes-Lincoln County has always been a huge game,” Lincoln County coach Larry Campbell said.
Campbell picked up his first win in the series in his second season as head coach back in 1973. Lincoln County won 21-0.
Thirty-nine years later – and not far down the road – Washington-Wilkes coach Robby Robinson is in his second season, going for victory No. 1 in the series.
Robinson isn’t making any predictions, but he hopes his program’s fortunes change
“We haven’t proven ourselves yet,” Robinson said. “But I feel like we’re making gains, and ultimately, it’s going to swing back in our favor. When? I don’t know. But one day, it’s going to.”