LINCOLNTON, Ga. - The prospect of a season-opening scoreless tie was so unsavory that both teams opted to risk losing in overtime.
The gamble paid off for Hephzibah in a 10-0 win Lincoln County.
Senior quarterback Thomas Payton, who had two potential touchdown passes dropped by receivers in regulation, finally found a sure-handed target in Jeff Dalce for a 49-yard gain on the first possession of overtime. The play helped set up a 21-yard Jason Whitledge field goal.
Lincoln County's hopes of coming back in the second five-minute overtime period were dashed by two Cedric Leverett interceptions, the second returned 30 yards for a touchdown by Derell Hills with 39 seconds remaining.
After finishing regulation in a scoreless tie, the two sides met with the officials and hashed out a plan to play two five-minute overtime halves. The decision in a non-region game inspired the Rebels, who huddled and hollered on the sidelines while the coaches established the parameters.
Hephzibah running back Rafiel Brooks led all rushers with 81 yards on 26 carries, while Payton added 43 yards on 9 rushes.
Lincoln got most of its production from rusher Sanchez Jones (67 yards) and Leverett passed for 120 yards in the losing cause.
It was a big victory for Bill Navas' Rebels, who are considered a potential playoff team despite coming off a 3-7 season.
Hephzibah staved off several Lincoln County threats, including one penetration to the rebel 3-yard line before Mitchell Florence stopped Leverett for no gain on fourth down.
Lincoln County has won region championships 18 of the last 19 years under head coach Larry Campbell, but the Red Devils aren't the favorites this season with 18 seniors gone from last years team and only three returning starters.
The scoreless first half wasn't without fireworks despite the teams combining for just 157 offensive yards.
On the first play of its second possession, Lincoln quarterback Cedric Leverett threw a quick out to Marcus Freeman on the left sideline. When Hephzibah defensive back Rent Sherill overcommitted on the ball and missed the receiver, Freeman shot up the sideline for an apparent 58-yard touchdown. But an illegal motion penalty nullified the score.
Hephzibah tried to do the same thing on the first play of its next possession, with Payton throwing deep to a wide-open Craig Floumoy. But Floumoy dropped the pass.
The second quarter was marked by an exchange of turnovers. Lincoln's drove as far as the Hephzibah 17 before Sanchez Jones fumbled the ball away on third down.
Hephzibah moved into Lincoln territory before Payton was intercepted deep by Courtney Partlow. Another Rebel drive stalled on downs at the Red Devil 26.
Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219.