LINCOLNTON, Ga. – Subregion B in Region 7A will come down to math.
Lincoln County ended a four-year drought against Aquinas with a tough 12-6 victory Friday night in Larry Campbell Stadium, forging a three-way tie atop the subregion between the Red Devils, Irish and Washington-Wilkes Tigers.
Since all three teams lost their crossover games against teams from subregion A, it will come down to points in the power rankings to determine who will play Stratford Academy for the region championship next week.
All three teams will have to travel next week, with the order determining who will play Stratford, First Presbyterian and Tattnall Square in that order as the top three teams in subregion B.
“It’ll be a long night calculating,” said Aquinas coach James Leonard, who suffered his first loss against the Red Devils in five seasons. “I never passed a math class so I’m not going to do that myself.”
Aquinas came into Friday’s game ranked ninth in the private school power rankings with 12.31 points while Washington-Wilkes (11.63) and Lincoln County (10.24) ranked 15th and 21st, respectively, among the Class A public schools.
The only math that mattered Friday night was on the scoreboard. Aquinas (6-3, 4-1) had its region destiny in its own hands but couldn’t find the end zone against the Red Devils’ defense that dominated the line. Aquinas drove five times deep into Lincoln County territory and had to settle for a pair of Crimmins Hankinson field goals on their first and last possessions of the second half.
A critical play came at the start of the third quarter when Bradley White caught a pass in the open and raced 57 yards before getting hauled down at the 8 by Duke Roberts. The Irish failed to get any closer and settled for a 3-0 lead.
Lincoln County (5-4, 4-1) answered immediately with an 80-yard drive capped by a 3-yard Gerard Hearst touchdown and 6-3 lead after the point-after hit the upright.
Aquinas turned it over twice in the second half, and the Red Devils capitalized after Darrien Elder intercepted a deep lob and returned it 44 yards to the Irish 20. Four plays later, Jamal Norman scored from the 4 for a 12-3 lead.
Aquinas drove to the Lincoln County 11 but three straight incomplete passes forced another Hankinson field goal from 28 yards with 1:35 remaining.
Lincoln County covered the ensuing onside kick and converted a third-and-4 after exhausting all of the Irish timeouts and killed the rest of the clock.
The victory assured that the Red Devils should reached the postseason for the 44th consecutive year. Aquinas will play in its seventh consecutive Class A postseason.
“Finally,” said Lincoln County coach Kevin Banks, who was 0-3 against Aquinas. “Very satisfying. We knew we got a good football team and the kids played hard.”
Norman rushed 23 times for 127 yards for the Red Devils while John Paul led the Irish with 105 yards rushing and 175 passing.
Said Leonard: “They definitely outplayed us tonight. We beat ourselves on offense.”
Aquinas had won four straight over Lincoln County since Leonard took the reins in 2013. Prior to that the Irish had lost 32 consecutive games to the Red Devils dating back to 1973.
A see-saw first half left both teams scoreless despite each moving the ball into scoring range repeatedly only to either turn it over or turn it over on downs.
Aquinas drove three times to the Lincoln County 34, 15 and 26 only to come up empty each time. The deepest penetration ended when Paul’s third-down pass was picked off by Reid at the goal-line.
Lincoln County didn’t fare much better, getting as far as the Irish 23 and 16 on two of its four possessions. The first ended when Hearst fumbled at the end of a 14-yard run. The second drive stalled with a pair of negative-yardage plays and two incompletions with 29 seconds in the half.