Behind the big-play prowess of Jalen Turner and DeAndre Harris, Washington-Wilkes rallied for a 28-14 victory over neighboring Lincoln County to register the second consecutive victory in the long-standing Highway 378 rivalry.
The Tigers, ranked No. 9 in Class AA, faced Class A’s No. 3 Red Devils for the 76th time, but the first on regional television on WJBF-Me TV 6.2.
“It wasn’t a fluke last year,” Washington-Wilkes coach Robby Robinson said of the 21-6 victory in Lincolnton that snapped a Tigers losing streak in the series. “First time that’s been done in over 10 years and that’s big for this community. Ever since Coach (Larry) Campbell came in he’s ruled the roost as far as Washington-Wilkes. So this is a good sign for our program.”
Turner scored on a 64-yard wildcat run in the second quarter and set up a crucial field goal with an 85-yard punt return in the third. Harris, the Tigers’ sophomore quarterback, rushed 33 yards for one touchdown and hit Treyvon Booker on a 20-yarder for another.
The Tigers (2-0) sealed it with a Quay Blackburn touchdown with 1:51 remaining.
“As I told everybody before the game if we could keep the ball out of (Jalen Turner’s) hands we’d be alright and we couldn’t keep it out of his hands,” Campbell said. “We decided stupidly to kick it to him and that was a mistake.”
Other than the big plays and the final margin, it was an almost equally balanced matchup with the Tigers barely edging the visiting Red Devils in yardage rushing (235-216) and passing (87-82).
Lincoln County (1-1) jumped to a quick start after a 54-yard Jamar Norman end around on the first play from scrimmage set up a 2-yard touchdown pass to Norman from Keith Lockhart on the opening possession.
Lockhart added a 51-yard touchdown on a quarterback draw that put the Red Devils ahead 14-13 before halftime. But the Lincoln County starting quarterback left the game with cramps in the third quarter and the Red Devils were not able to mount a rally behind former starter Ben Turner.
The Red Devils had a couple of chances to build a cushion after Washington-Wilkes turnovers but failed to capitalize.
In the second quarter, Tyquane Ross intercepted Harris and returned it into Tiger territory, but after driving to the 8, Lockhart threw an interception to Booker in the end zone. On the mext play, Jalen Turner ran 64 yards for a Washington-Wilkes touchdown to make it 13-7.
Then after Harris fumbled on the first play of the second half at the Tigers' 28, Lincoln County lost yardage and had to punt.
“That was our chance right there and we threw it away,” Campbell said.
Said Robinson: “Lincoln County out-executed us the first half but I was proud of our guys for coming back. ... A lot of guys stepped up for us tonight.”
Turner combined for 130 total yards rushing and receiving in addition to his long punt return. Harris rushed and passed for 87 yards while Blackburn added 74 rushing for the Tigers.
Mike McIntire rushed 22 times for 96 yards to lead Lincoln County.
The Red Devils still lead the all-time series 36-34-6. Since Lincolnton’s first win in the rivalry in 1949, they lead the series record 36-24-4. Campbell has faced nine different Washington-Wilkes head coaches in his 42 seasons at the Red Devils’ helm, going 29-14 against the Tigers.
The Tigers dominated in a 21-6 victory last year at Lincoln County, halting a run of losses in nine of the previous 10 meetings. It prompted a bit of a boast by Robinson after the game.
“The tide is turning in this rivalry, I’m going to go ahead and say that right now,” Robinson said last year. “Great win for us in the rivalry and hopefully this is a sign that the tide had turned for Washington-Wilkes.”
The post-game scene in 2012 – with Washington-Wilkes players and fans lingering on Buddy Bufford Field and posing for pictures in front of the scoreboard for publication in the Washington newspaper – didn’t sit well with folks in Lincolnton.
“I’d never seen that before,” Campbell said. “Went through town like it was a state championship. Don’t think I’ve ever seen them so excited. Just added more fuel to the rivalry.”
The Tigers replicated the jubilation this Friday with a raucous on-field celebration followed by a blaring police escort of the team buses back to the high school.
Lincoln County’s next game against South Carolina’s Ninety Six has been postponed because of a scheduling conflict to Thursday, Sept. 19, at 7 p.m. Next Friday will now be an open date for the Devils.