LINCOLNTON, Ga. - One week before the state championship rematch with bitter rival Washington-Wilkes, Lincoln County continued its mistreatment of its neighbors.
At least this time the Red Devils allowed somebody else to score.
Lincoln County found the end zone on five of its first six possessions as it rolled up more than 400 yards on offense in a 35-14 defeat of Class AAA Harlem on Friday night.
Counting the title game shutout of Washington-Wilkes last year and the opening shutout of McCormick, the Red Devils have outscored three teams nearest to them by a combined 93-14.
"Great football team," said Harlem coach Jimmie Lewis as he rushed into the locker room. "Not even in their class."
Few are in the same class as coach Larry Campbell's defending state champions, especially when it comes to offensive firepower. The only thing that stopped Lincoln County through the first three quarters Friday was itself. A botched hand-off exchange by quarterback Brandon Barden on Lincoln County's second possession set Harlem up at the Red Devils' 24, leading to a Trey Crain touchdown that drew the Bulldogs to 8-7.
Barden didn't waste any time getting the momentum back. After a 17-yard quarterback keeper, Barden called his own number again and broke through two tackle attempts in the open field for a 46-yard touchdown and a 15-7 lead.
"I've got to make up for my mistakes; I felt like it was my fault on the exchange," said Barden, who finished with 103 yards rushing, 23 receiving and 17 more passing.
Harlem was still hanging tough with the prolific Red Devils in the first half. The Bulldogs drove 47 yards by converting a third-and-15 with a 33-yard Brendan Gray pass to Will Bridges and a fourth-and-1 Maurice Dorsey dive. But on fourth-and-5 at the Lincoln County 29, Gray's sweep was stopped a yard short.
When the Red Devils built the lead to 22-7 with Franklin Jones' 18-yard rush capping a 76-yard drive, Harlem did itself in with a Crain fumble on third-and-short.
Lincoln County took advantage of good field position, with reserve quarterback Austin Goldman hitting Barden for a touchdown. Barden dropped the ball after stretching to cross the plain, and Harlem briefly celebrated what they thought was a 60-yard fumble return only to have the referees correctly rule it a touchdown.
Barden, who has committed to play for Virginia Tech, had no preference for scoring using his feet or his hands.
"Just any touchdown is fine with me," he said.
Barden stayed in the game only one offensive series in the second half, rushing 15 yards to the 1 to set up Franklin Jones' second touchdown and a 35-7 lead.
Harlem (0-2) simply didn't have the offensive diversity to rally. Gray rushed for 72 yards and Barry St. John had 83 as the Bulldogs finished with 207 yards on the ground. But the lack of any consistent passing game made it tough to rally against a Red Devils defense that allowed only six plays to gain more than 10 yards - four of them on Harlem's final drive that was capped by a Alex Hintz 10-yard touchdown run.
Lincoln County got an encouraging performance from backup quarterback Austin Goldman, who completed seven consecutive passes for 62 yards including a touchdown.
Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or email@example.com
LINCOLN COUNTY 35, HARLEM 14
PLAY OF THE GAME: Lincoln County quarterback Brandon Barden atoned immediately for a first-quarter fumble, breaking away from two open-field tackles for a 46-yard tourchdown run.
WHY LINCOLN COUNTY WON: A wealth of skill led to touchdowns on five of its first six possessions.
WHY HARLEM LOST: Needing to keep pace, the Bulldogs buried themselves in the second quarter with short-yardage miscues, turning it over on downs at the Lincoln County 26 and fumbling at their own 30.
STAR OF THE GAME: Barden rushed for 103 yards and a touchdown while receiving for 23 yards and another score.
WHAT'S NEXT: Harlem plays host to Aquinas next week. Lincoln County plays host to rival Washington-Wilkes.