"It ain't over till it's over." -- Yogi Berra
That was never more true than last Friday night in Lincolnton. Lincoln County's Red Devils added another amazing story to the legend of Buddy Bufford Field with their no-time-left 21-20 win over Stratford Academy.
Lining up, getting set, and getting the scoring play off as the clock ticked to zero was amazing enough. LaKeith Lockhart finding Midarious Roberts open on fourth down across the field in the end zone for the touchdown was great. Jamar Norman barely scoring on the PAT run to give the Devils the win was fantastic.
The Red Devil players and coaches celebrated in the endzone as the visiting Eagles stood on the field in total disbelief. This "fantastic finish" will be talked about for years to come.
The Devils came into the game as seven-point underdogs to the defending GISA Class AAA champions. The Macon private school had lost by one point to #1 Aquinas earlier in the season. Aquinas whipped Tattnall Square Academy 49-21 to secure the Region 7-A title for the second straight year.
The victory all but guarantees the Devils a spot in the Class A Public playoff field. The Class A playoffs start November 21 after no games this week. The announcement of the final playoff field was scheduled after press time for this week's Journal, but unofficial projections indicate the Devils may be headed way down south to Folkston to take on the 9-1 Charlton County Indians.
QB LaKeith Lockhart called his own number on the first play from scrimmage, veered toward the left sideline, and ran 69 yards to the endzone. Ryan O'Neill's PAT kick gave the Devils a surprising 7-0 lead just 24 seconds into the game.
A good kickoff return and runs of 15 and 16 yards moved the Eagles to the LC 30. The Devil Defense stiffened, stopping Stratford for no gain on 4th-and-4 at the LC 24.
The Devils gained three first downs before the drive fizzled as the SA 37. A great punt by O'Neill started the Eagles at their 5. Twelve plays produced four first downs and moved the visitors to the LC 39. The Eagle ballcarrier then went left and outraced the Devil defenders to the endzone. The PAT kick was low, leaving the Devils ahead 7-6 with 8:50 left in the half.
Five plays gained a first down and 16 yards before the Devils faced a 4th-and-2 at the SA 48. The Devils chose to go for the first down, but Norman was able to gain only one.
Stratford's strong running attack was difficult to stop, with the Eagles scoring on a 14-yard run with just under two minutes left in the first half. The PAT kick was good for a 13-7 advantage.
The Eagles took the second half kickoff and picked up one first down before Marquis Leverett sacked the Eagle quarterback for a nine-yard loss at the SA 24. Stratford rushed for 7 before Leverett and Norman broke up a third-down pass attempt and forced a punt.
Lockhart rushed for 13, Norman for 11, and Quay Hartfield for 12 on consecutive plays for a first down at the Stratford 26. Hartfield then battled his way into the endzone with 7:07 left in the third quarter. The extra point kick went wide left, leaving the game knotted at 13.
The Devil Defense again played well, stopping the visitor charge at midfield. Lincoln County was unable to escape from deep in their end and punted back to the Eagles at the LC 46. Stratford scored on a 26-yard run with 6:08 left in the game. The kick was good for a 20-13 lead for the private school.
Hartfield returned the kickoff 30 yards to the LC 42. He then rushed for nine yards before Lockhart gained four for a first down a the Eagle 45. Two plays lost two yards, causing the Devils to take a time-out with 3:12 left.
Lockhart passed 11 yards to Xavier Gartrell on the right sideline, leaving the Devils inches shy of a first down. Lockhart kept the pigskin and gained the first down. Hartfield picked up six and Jayden Robinson three yards to setup 3rd-and-1 at the Eagle 26. Lockhart again picked up the first down, to the 24 with about two minutes left.
Hartfield rushed for three then five yards -- 3rd-and-2 with 1:17 left. Lockhart rushed for five and the first -- 1:05 left. Hartfield rushed for one to the 10, with LC calling their second timeout with 43 seconds left. Norman picked up five yards, with LC using their final timeout with 22 seconds left. Lockhart, after almost fumbling the snap, rushed over the right side for about four yards, but the Devils could not stop the clock.
Somehow the home team was able to line up and get the fourth-down play off. Video confirmed that the snap occurred simultaneously with the clock changing to "0:00". With three Eagles about to tackle him, Lockhart jumped and passed to Roberts on the left side of the endzone for the touchdown.
The Devils could have went for the PAT kick to tie the game, but Coach Kevin Banks had made the decision with two minutes to go that, given the chance, his team would go for the win. Lockhart handed off to Norman, who went right and barely got into the endzone as the goalline pylon was knocked down as he was tackled. The celebration, and the disbelief, began. The Devils won 21-20.
Lockhart led the Devil offense in yards with 14 carries for 112 yards, plus four completions in five attempts for 35 yards. Hartfield carried 10 times for 76 yards. Norman carried nine times for 42 yards. Roberts caught two passes for 17 yards.
Stratford Academy will join fellow 7-A schools Aquinas, Tattnall Square, and First Presbyterian Day in the Class A Private backet. Lincoln County will be the only public school from 7-A making the Class A Public bracket.