ATLANTA - Before Friday's Class A semifinal game with Trion, Lincoln County hadn't been in a real fight this season.
A fight in which both teams lose some blood, maybe a couple teeth. A fight that builds character.
A 63-0 win against Athens Christian doesn't build that strength. Neither does beating Johnson County 48-0 or Metter 56-7.
But if the Red Devils took anything away from their last-second 28-24 win against the Bulldogs - aside from the fact they'll play at Hawkinsville on Saturday at 6 p.m. for the state title - it was that they realized they can take a big punch and keep fighting.
Lincoln County now has character.
"We learned a little something about ourselves," Red Devils offensive line coach Mark Hill said. "And we didn't have to lose the game to learn it. Maybe we found a little bit of the character Trion showed."
Losing 22-0 at halftime, the Bulldogs chipped away at the Red Devils lead, scoring three times, converting a pair of two-point conversions and forcing Lincoln County quarterback Travis Clark to step on the back line of the end zone for a safety to take a 24-22 lead.
It all started with a fumble by Lincoln County running back C.J. Norman on the first play of the second half.
"The fumble changed the whole momentum of the game," Steven Brown said. "It gave them something to build on."
Luckily for the Red Devils, they destroyed the momentum when Clark hit Brown for a 17-yard touchdown pass with :25 left.
When the drive began 67 yards from the end zone, Red Devils coach Larry Campbell was thinking field goal all the way.
Instead, Clark - who, up until that point, had completed three of 10 passes for 22 yards and an interception - wanted the burden on his shoulders.
Clark said: "I told my linemen that if you give me time, we can make something happen."
He made something happen all right. He gave the Red Devils squad the chance to win their first state title since 1995.
Although it'll likely be considered the underdogs next week, the Lincoln County squad has finally learned to deal with adversity.
"It's going to be big for next week," senior linebacker Josh Beard said. "We're going to learn from this game. We need to keep the momentum, and we need to keep our heads. We have to keep our cool."
Reach Josh Katzowitz at (706) 823-3216. or firstname.lastname@example.org