The Bulldogs had no trouble moving the ball against the Golden Bears in the first quarter, but penalties at inopportune times stalled their first two drives around midfield.
“We are a young ball club and one of the problems we have is we’ll shoot ourselves in the foot,” Anniston head coach Eddie Bullock said. “We’ll do something great, then we’ll take a step back. Once we correct that, we’re really going to be a good team.”
For the Golden Bears, the issue seemed to be finding rhythm while running a fast-break style no-huddle offense resulted in two quick three-and-outs inside their own 20-yard line.
On Lincoln’s ensuing possession facing third-and-long from their 8-yard line, Golden Bears quarterback Chance Byrd threw the ball away from his own end zone while under duress in the pocket. The officials ruled Byrd intentionally grounded the ball, and the play resulted in a safety, giving Anniston the lead over Lincoln, 2-0, near the top of the second quarter.
After forcing Anniston to punt after a second sack by Dontaevius Johnson, the Lincoln offense put together an 11-play, 80-yard drive capped by a two-yard touchdown run by Johnson, a defensive tackle lined up in the Golden Bears’ backfield. Mason McLean added an extra point attempt, making the score 7-2 in favor of Lincoln.
A three-and-out by Anniston gave Lincoln an opportunity to add more points before the half, but a 49-yard field goal attempt fell short to end the first half, 7-2.
The Golden Bears took charge on the first series of the second half, converting a fourth-and-1 play on a fake punt play. The conversion set the tone for an 11-play, 64-yard drive resulting in a one-yard touchdown run by Jauntavius Johnson, who leaped over the pile to reach the end zone. McLean’s extra point attempt was good, giving Lincoln the double-digit lead early in the third-quarter, 14-2.
Bulldogs senior running back Demarcus Thomas broke free for 46 yards on the kickoff return, setting Dobbins and the offense up at Lincoln’s 44-yard line. Three plays later, Dobbins connected with quarterback Dar’Monte Miller, who was lined up as a wide receiver, for a 23-yard touchdown pass. Dobbins kicked the extra point to bring Anniston within five, 14-9.
After a two unsuccessful drives from both teams, Lincoln took control of the ball before stalling yet again near midfield and punting. Anniston’s Thomas returned the punt 76 yards to Lincoln’s 4-yard line.
Two plays later, Anniston fullback Donovan Lucas would score on a 2-yard carry. The two-point conversion failed, but Anniston took the lead 15-14.
Junior kick returner Jamychol Becker set the Golden Bears up with great field position at their own 38-yard line, but a three-and-out later, Lincoln punted back to Anniston, pinning them deep in their own territory.
After two running plays by Anniston to grind the clock, Dobbins forced a pass into coverage on third-and-9 that was intercepted by senior Jalen Turner and returned 20 yards for a Golden Bears touchdown. McLean nailed his third extra point of the night, putting Lincoln ahead 21-15 with 5:40 left in the fourth quarter.
Lincoln’s lead would be short-lived.
On a three-play, 66-yard drive lasting 51 seconds. Dobbins found Thomas near the left sideline, who cut back and made two defenders miss on a 35-yard touchdown reception. Dobbins kicked the extra-point to put Anniston back on top, 22-21.
On their next drive, Lincoln would go four-and-out after a fourth-and-20 pass sailed past Becker’s fingertips.
Anniston chewed two minutes off the clock before punting, giving Lincoln one more chance to come back with 1:40 seconds left in the game.
After a six-yard completion by Byrd to Becker, Anniston called a time out. Lincoln would insert sophomore Zay Caldwell in at quarterback.
After two runs for 22 yards on the drive and an incompletion, Caldwell threw a pass while facing pressure into the hands of Anniston’s Thomas, who sealed the win the interception, 22-21.
Lincoln head coach Brad Wallace’s team drops to 0-3.
“I’m going to be honest with you, I’m proud of these guys,” Wallace said. “We’re a little banged-up and we’re trying to fight through it. They’re working their butts off and I’m proud of these kids. We’ve just got to continue working hard and maintain a positive attitude while we try to get over this hump. I’m not a quitter. I’ll go ahead and tell you that. We’re going to get back out there and get back to work.”
Bullock spoke highly of his team, praising the efforts of Thomas, who racked up eight carries for 64 rushing yards, two catches for 49 yards and a touchdown, 122 combined return yardage and the game-sealing interception.
“I challenged him,” Bullock said. “He’s hasn’t played football since his freshman year. He’s the type of athlete who can make plays, and I have some more like him who can make the plays. But we have to be disciplined and he stepped up to the plate. He was leading people on the sidelines. He really stepped up and showed his leadership.”
The Golden Bears travel to take on Hokes Bluff next Friday.