LINCOLNTON, Ga. -- With a pair of goal-line stands at the end of each half, Lincoln County's defense allowed two big offensive plays to stand up as the Red Devils shut out Trion 14-0 Friday night in the first round of the Class A playoffs.
Lincoln County (10-1) scored on its second offensive snap with a 66-yard passing strike from Garrett Mohr to Rusty Scott. A 38-yard Scott reception from Franklin Sherman on the Red Devils' first possession of the third quarter helped set up a 1-yard Craig Jones touchdown.
But it was the defense that made the stops when it had to against Trion's triple-option offense to lift the Red Devils to their 13th consecutive first-round playoff victory. The Red Devils will play host next week to Eagles Landing Christian, which extended its winning streak to nine games with a 23-18 first-round victory over Athens Academy.
"That's the way it's been all season," said Lincoln County coach Larry Campbell of his offense's struggles since star tailback A.G. Middlebrooks was lost midseason to injury. "That's the game plan we've got. People don't realize you can't just replace a guy like (Middlebrooks)."
The offense did just enough on its first possessions of each half to give the defense all the room it needed. Scott's two big catches were the only completions of the night. He beat cornerback Heath Ivester for a jump ball from Mohr on the first reception and ran it the final 30 yards for the touchdown with 8:38 left in the first quarter.
"He had position on me and I did what I had to do to make the catch," Scott said.
His second catch to the Trion 26 triggered a 60-yard drive on the opening possession of the third quarter. It loosened up the offense enough that five plays later Jones scored from a yard out to make it 14-0 with 7:44 left in the third.
But Trion - enjoying its first winning season since 2004 - put pressure on the Red Devils' defense, which made two goal-line stands.
The most important came at the end of the first half after Trion mounted a sustained drive that ate up nearly all of the last seven minutes. The Bulldogs marched 66 yards in 14 plays - converting a third-and-10 and a fourth-and-inches - to set up first-and-goal at the Lincoln 6 with under a minute remaining.
After wasting a down with a spiked pass, an option toss and an incompletion in the end zone failed to gain another yard. Forced to settle for a 23-yard field goal attempt, Craig Caron's kick knuckled wide left of the upright with 18 seconds left.
Trion had nothing to show for its eight first downs and 113 yards in the opening half.
"It was awful, devastating," said Trion senior back Ryan Wilson, a 1,000-yard rusher four consecutive seasons. "We drove the ball well and when we get in the red zone we always score."
That pattern failed twice more in the second half. Trion turned the ball over on downs at the Lincoln County 18 after a 13-play drive stalled on its opening possession of the third quarter. Then when the Bulldogs were desperately trying to mount a comeback late in the fourth, another first-and-goal opportunity presented itself when Hayden Tucker's pass into quadruple coverage was caught by Cody Simpson for 39 yards on fourth-and-20.
But two incompletions and two rushes for loss ended Trion's hopes.
"We came back at halftime after a pep talk and got it done," said Marquis Parks, the leader of a defense that allowed only 9.3 points per game this season. "We know that 14 points is enough for our defense to win the game."
Scott's 104 receiving yards accounted for more than half of Lincoln County's offense,
Friday marked the fourth time Lincoln County and Trion have matched up in the postseason, and the Red Devils have won three in a row since a memorable 7-0 loss in northwest Georgia in the 1974 Class A championship game.
While the 53-8 Red Devils beatdown in the first round in Lincolnton in 2006 was forgettable except that it triggered a state championship run, the 2003 encounter in the Georgia Dome was epic.
Lincoln County had blown a 22-0 halftime lead and was trailing 24-22 when the Red Devils defense made a fourth down stop with 1:05 remaining. Lincoln quarterback Travis Clark redeemed himself for stepping out of the end zone for a safety his previous possession with two completions to Steven Brown for 59 yards, including the 17-yard touchdown with 25 seconds left for a 28-24 semifinal victory.
Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or email@example.com.
LINCOLN COUNTY 14, TRION 0
PLAY OF THE GAME: Rusty Scott wrestled the ball away from a Trion cornerback to make a 66-yard touchdown reception from Garrett Mohr on the second play from scrimmage.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Scott caught two passes for 104 yards.
WHY LINCOLN COUNTY WON: The defense made the stops when necessary against Trion's triple option.
WHY TRION LOST: The Bulldogs gave up two big plays and failed to convert first-and-goal opportunities twice.
NEXT: Lincoln County (10-1) will play host to Eagles Landing Christian (9-2) on Friday at 7:30 p.m.