LINCOLNTON - Last Friday's 21-17 victory by Lincoln County over Commerce here added another classic chapter to the long-time rivalry, and earned the Red Devils a quarterfinal berth.
Lincoln County will travel to Buena Vista, near Fort Benning, this Friday to play the Marion County Eagles. Marion County is 9-2 and the Region 4-A champion. The Eagles lost to Class AA playoff team Bleckley County and fellow 4-A member Manchester, which plays at top-ranked Irwin County this Friday.
The Eagles have averaged scoring nearly 35 points per game, and have been held to less than 28 only twice. In 2006, the Marion County football program evolved from Tri-County High, which included students from Marion, Schley, and Webster counties. The Tri-County Eagles played in Class AA. Marion defeated Schley County 35-27 last Friday.
Eagles head coach Chris Kirksey is 37-10 in his four years at Marion County. The Eagles barely lost to eventual state champ Clinch County in last year's semifinals.
If the Red Devils upset second-seeded Marion County this week, they will travel to southwest Georgia next week to face the winner of Pelham vs. Mitchell County. Warren County beat Bowdon 34-14 and will travel to Homerville to play always-tough Clinch County in the other quarterfinal matchup this Friday.
Kolbi Ferguson again surpassed the 100-yard mark with 147 yards and two TDs on 24 carries. Colton Willis ran nine times for 65 yards and a touchdown. Keenon Lampkin completed two of three pass attempts for 25 yards. Darrien "Tank" Elder caught both passes, and also averaged 38 yards across three punts.
A 30-yard kickoff return and a 22-yard run moved the visitors into Red Devil territory on the first possession of the night. Outstanding defensive plays by Antavious Brown and Miles Parks led to the drive ending on downs at the LC 19 midway the quater.
A miscue on first down stymied the Devils' first drive, with Elder booming a 46-yard punt to the Tiger 38. Commerce ran for three first downs before booting a 38-yard field goal. The Tigers led 3-0 with 10:46 left in the half.
Brown returned the kickoff 22 yards, with a personal foul by Commerce adding 15 more to the LC 38. Ferguson ran down the right sidelines for 30 yards. Willis rushed for eight and Ferguson added two more. Willis then broke two tackles for 21 yards, being stopped just shy of the goal line. Ferguson scored from the half-yard line with 9:19 left. J T. Bundrick booted the PAT for a 7-3 Lincoln County lead.
Four runs over ten yards led to a one-yard TD run by the Tigers with 3:16 left in the half. Commerce led 10-7 while the bands played.
The Red Devils took the second half kickoff and began a methodical drive down the field. Three runs gained nine yards, leaving the home team with 4th-&-1 at its own 29. The Devils lined up to go for the first down, and induced the defense to jump offsides for the first down. Six plays later the Devils again faced a fourth down, but this time for three yards near midfield. Ferguson strode to the outside on the right for 27 big yards. Willis then went right again for 19 yards and a touchdown. The PAT failed, leaving the Devils ahead 13-10 midway the third.
The Tigers gained one first down but the Devil Defense stopped the sweep play that had been giving them problems and forced a punt. The punt was shanked, giving the Devils the pigskin at the LC 48.
Lampkin passed 14 yards to Elder for a big first down at the Tiger 38. Ferguson ran for 13, and a personal foul added 13 to the Tiger 12. Ferguson bulled ahead for seven yards. The senior back then went untouched into the end zone for his 32nd touchdown of the year. Elder snatched up a bad snap on the PAT attempt and scampered into the endzone for two and a 21-10 lead with 11:03 left in the contest.
Commerce still had time. WIllis stuffed the Tiger running back for a five-yard loss. Brown and Kevon Franklin broke up a third-down pass attempt to force another Tiger punt.
The Devils earned two first downs and took four and a half minutes off the clock before losing the ball on downs with 5:21 left. The Tigers scored on a 20-yard reverse with 2:29 left to close the gap to 21-17. An onside kick would give Commerce a chance.
The Tigers made the onside kick with Lincoln recovering, but an illegal procedure penalty nullified the play and Commerce had another chance. The Tigers ran a different onside play, with the kicker swiveling at the last minute and kicking the opposite direction from the first attempt. The Devils were ready with Derrick Barksdale recovering at the Tiger 44.
Ferguson broke through for 41 yards and a touchdown, but a personal foul against the Devils put the Devils where they were before the play. The Devils punted 38 yards to the Tiger 6.
With only 33 seconds and no timeouts left, the Tigers came out throwing. After one incompletion, the Devils were called for roughing the passer. From the 21 with 0:24 left, Tyson Zellars sacked the quarterback for a 10-yard loss. The Tigers spiked the ball to stop the clock with six seconds left. The Tigers completed a 27-yard pass as the final seconds ticked off. The Devils won their last home game of the season 21-17.
The Devils will see much more of Commerce in the coming years, as the Devils and the Tigers will be together in Region 8-A Public starting in 2020. Warren County appealed their assignment to 8-A Public, and were approved by the GHSA to be placed in 7-A Public with Hancock Central, GMC, and Twiggs County among others. This change leaves the Devils with five region opponents: Commerce, Greene County, Social Circle, Towns County, and Washington-Wilkes.
This week's Thanksgiving holiday will make the 3.5-hour travel time to Buena Vista somewhat more manageable. Kickoff is set for 7:30. Quarterfinal tickets are $12.00 per GHSA regulations. The stadium is at the high school at 1 Eagle Drive, north of Buena Vista on GA 41.