LINCOLNTON, Ga. — Larry Campbell will have Thanksgiving off for the first time since 1996.
Dooly County eliminated Lincoln County from the Class A public school playoffs at Buddy Bufford Field for the second consecutive year, only this time a 37-13 trouncing on Friday night left no doubt which was the better team.
The Bobcats (8-3) dominated both lines of scrimmage in the rout, limiting the Red Devils offense to just 174 total yards.
It was the first time since losing to Turner County in 1996 that Lincoln County (7-4) failed to advance past the first round of the postseason.
“It’s been up and down but it’s the first year in 20 years that I haven’t been practicing on Thanksgiving,” said Campbell, the winningest coach in Georgia history. “Never been beaten in the first round. It’s a hard pill to swallow but they were the best football team. There was no question about that.”
A year ago in the state semifinals, Dooly County escaped with a 10-7 victory with its only touchdown coming off a blocked field goal return on the last play of the first half.
This time the Bobcats offense proved mostly unstoppable after spotting the Red Devils a 7-0 lead after the opening possession of the night.
Dooly quarterback Kereon Merrell threw for 147 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another in the first half as the Bobcats opened up a 28-7 lead. Running back Chanin Hamilton rushed 12 times for 163 yards, including a 37-yard touchdown on Dooly’s first possession to tie the game.
The Bobcats took the lead for good on the next possession when Cortney Clark took a short third-and-8 pass and broke away from two Lincoln County defenders, racing the final 60 yards of a 71-yard score late in the first quarter.
Clark added a short touchdown pass in the second quarter and Merrell ran for another to make it 28-7 before the half.
“They had a much better football team than they had last year,” Campbell said. “The got a quarterback from somewhere and last year they didn’t have a quarterback and we were able to run with them.”
The Red Devils nearly recovered fumbles on its first two kickoffs of the second half to get back into it. The first recovery at the Dooly County 32 eventually led to a 3-yard Mike McIntire run to cut the gap to 28-13 less than two minutes into the third quarter.
It looked as if the Bobcats fumbled away the ensuing kickoff as well, but the officials ruled the runner down at the 15.
Dooly County’s final 23 points were set up by two interceptions returned deep into Red Devils territory, a botched punt snap and a safety.
It was the final high school game for Red Devils running back McIntire, who accounted for more than 1,500 yards coming into the game. But McIntire was limited to on 54 yards on 15 carries and the Red Devils were forced to try to throw the ball to come back.
“We started out great but didn’t really execute the rest of the game,” McIntire said after receiving a stream of well wishes from Red Devils fans grateful for his contributions to the program. “It’s tough. I really wanted to win state. Hopefully the next team next year will go farther than we did. We had out ups and downs but fought through adversity to get through. We just didn’t get through the first round of the playoffs.”
Senior quarterback Ben Turner completed 14-of-31 passes for 104 yards and was sacked four times and pressure incessantly. He scored the game’s opening touchdown on a 7-yard run that gave the Red Devils their only lead of the night.
“We got no pressure on (their quarterback) and we couldn’t keep them off ours,” Campbell said.
The Bobcats, which lost in the Class A championship to ECI last year, will travel to play Marion County in next week’s quarterfinals.