Middlebrooks, who sat out almost the entire preseason until Monday because of a stress fracture in his lower left leg, was ordered to curtail his efforts to fewer than 15 plays and nothing longer than 20-yard sprints. But on his first and last touches of the game he went 51 and 53 yards to account for more than half of the Red Devils' offensive output.
"We promised the doctor that he wouldn't overdo it," said Lincoln County coach Larry Campbell, who got the ball to his playmaker 13 times. "I guess he was supposed to fall down after 20 yards."
Middlebrooks salvaged the night after Greene County tied the score at 7-7 in the fourth quarter on a 35-yard touchdown pass from William Leslie to a wide-open Derrick Ruff.
To that point the Red Devils had accounted for only two first downs the entire night.
But after taking over with 3:05 remaining, Lincoln County opted for screen passes to get the ball in its playmaker's hands. After one 12-yard gain to the right, Franklin Sherman threw to Middlebrooks on the left flank. He juked two defenders at the line of scrimmage and took off outside for the remaining 53 yards untouched.
"Sooner or later I knew 25 was going to show up," said defensive end Marquia Parks. "He do what he do and ended it with a bang."
Until that point, the Red Devils seemed satisfied with relying on Ercell Daniel's 48-yard punt return touchdown in the first quarter to hold up. It almost did with Parks dominating and disrupting most things that Greene County tried to do on offense. The Tigers stuck their toe barely across midfield only once in the first three quarters.
"Seventy-four was as dominant a factor on defense as 25 was on offense," said Campbell, citing on the jersey numbers of his two biggest stars. "I don't know what we would have done without him."
In the kind of sloppy start typical of opening night and made worse by rain-slicked turf, the teams's exchanged fumbles on back-to-back plays of their opening possessions. They did it again in the second half and combined for three lost fumbles apiece before the night was over.
Lincoln County, however, got the early edge in field position with a 51-yard run by Middlebrooks on the second play of the game. He quickly showed no ill effects by breaking off right tackle and streaking up the sideline before getting knocked out of bounds by DeEric Smith.
The Red Devils got the break they needed in a tight game after Greene County's second possession stalled at the Tigers 12. Daniel received a 36-yard Hunter Pignata punt and quickly sidestepped the coverage, getting loose up the right sideline and cruising to a 48-yard touchdown return.Senior placekicker Walker Smith made good on his first career attempt for a 7-0 Lincoln County lead.
The Red Devils nearly had another long score in the second quarter when Franklin Sherman's deep pass bounced out of the hands of defensive back Smith and into the hands of Keestan Wynn for a 53-yard connection. But the touchdown was called back by a holding penalty.
Greene County won the statistical yardage battle 282-197 and posted 13 first downs to the Red Devils' six. But it wasn't until the start of the fourth quarter that the Tigers got any sustained traction. When Leslie hit Ruff deep behind Sherman at safety, the Tigers had all the momentum. But their final drive stalled on downs at the Lincoln 35 before Middlebrooks took over."We were not going to lose this game," said Middle-brooks. "We just needed a play from somebody and we got it."
Former Greene County star Brandon Miller and Lincoln County legend Garrison Hearst served as honorary captains during the opening coin toss. Both men played for the Georgia Bulldogs before going to the NFL.
LINCOLN CO. 14, GREENE CO. 7
PLAY OF THE GAME: A.G. Middlebrooks took a lateral pass from Franklin Sherman, juked two defenders at the line of scrimmage and raced untouched 53 yards for the go-ahead score.
WHY LINCOLN COUNTY WON: Defensive end Marquia Parks disrupted the Tigers enough to hold on between big offensive plays.
WHY GREENE COUNTY LOST: They let the Red Devils' skill kill them in two big plays up opposite sidelines.
STAR OF THE GAME: Parks was so dominant that the game announcer facetiously credited him for being involved in "several" tackles.
NEXT: Lincoln County plays host to McCormick (S.C.) next Friday at 7:30 p.m.