Commerce hasn’t played Lincoln County in eight years, but the Tigers will face a team looking much like the Red Devils of old.
After suffering through a highly-uncharacteristic 4-6 campaign a year ago, this storied program — owner of 11 state championships — has responded with an 8-2 regular season and will host the Tigers Friday (Nov. 22) for a second-round playoff game.
The Red Devils, led by second-year coach Michael Pollock, are riding a six-game winning streak.
“Somebody asked me what do they look like, and I said, ‘They look like Lincoln County,’” said Commerce coach Michael Brown, who owns an 8-6 playoff record. “They’ve always had good-looking kids, good size, good speed. They’re playing extremely well with confidence on both sides of the ball. They’re physical.”
Brown added, “those are all trademark characteristics of Lincoln County teams.”
Commerce (9-2) knows a thing about those vintage Lincoln County teams. This will be the 18th time these programs have met.
This is also the eighth post-season pairing between the programs. Commerce beat the Red Devils twice (once in the regular season and once in the post season) during its state-title run of 2000.
The familiarity between the programs over the years adds to the intrigue of this matchup.
“I know it does for me,” Brown said. “I’ve got a long history as a player and coach with Lincoln County. They’re one of the premier programs in the state of Georgia. Just the opportunity to go down there and play in Lincolnton and do so in the playoffs is just a great opportunity. We’re looking forward to it.”
Commerce’s triple option attack will be pitted against a Lincoln County defense surrendering just 7.6 points per contest.
“The thing over the years looking at Lincoln County that always stood out to me about the Lincoln County defensive group is they’ve always had good linebackers, and they’ve got two this year,” Brown said.
The Red Devils’ lineback corps is lead by Kolbi Ferguson and Colton Willis, who Brown said are physical, run well and are well coached.
The coach offered overall praise for the rest of the Red Devil defense, too.
“You add that with a big, strong defensive front and guys in the secondary that can really move, so they’re really solid and playing their brand of football again down in Lincoln County — just fast and physical and flying around and making plays,” Brown said.
Offensively, Ferguson, also a running back, is one of the main cogs in Lincoln County’s single-wing offense. He’s rushed for over 1,000 yards this season and is averaging around seven yards per carry.
“He’s a player — he’s a football player,” Brown said.
With their single-wing attack, the Red Devils look to amass bodies at the point of attack “and absolutely pound you into submission,” Brown said. Brown said the Red Devil linemen are skilled at blocking and pulling, too.
This is a game destined to be won in the trenches.
“We tell our kids the game of football is blocking and tackling and running, and it’s going to come down to those individual battles that take place on the offensive and defensive lines throughout the game,” Brown said.
Adding to the challenge is playing at Lincoln County, where the Red Devils scarcely lose.
“They expect to win at home, and they have done that. I don’t know what the percentage is at home, but I would say it’s over 90 percent of their games,” Brown said. “They just don’t lose at home.”
But the Tigers are embracing the moment as two traditional stalwarts of Class A will clash. Brown said he and the coaches have talked to the players the past couple of weeks about “numbering their days” and savoring this time.
“Especially these seniors,” Brown said. “They get to do this just once. So, you want to make sure there’s no effort left on the field on Friday nights, that there’s no undone performance left on the field on Friday nights. I think our kids understand that.”
Brown added, “It’s just an incredibly exciting time, so we’re just hoping we can go down there and make a good showing of it Friday night, and let the chips fall where they may.”