By Anthony Rhoads
In the past two seasons, the Lovejoy Wildcats and Starr's Mill Panthers have tangled in some epic battles on the football field.
Last year, the Wildcats traveled to Starr's Mill High School and were cruising with a 34-14 lead in the fourth quarter.
But the advantage evaporated and Starr's Mill stunned the Wildcats and walked away with a 35-34 victory.
In 2001, Lovejoy and Starr's Mill met at Tara Stadium. With seconds remaining in the game, Starr's Mill was going for a 2-point conversion but Lovejoy made the stop and held on for a 19-18 victory.
This season, Lovejoy Al Hughes expects another tough, hard-fought contest when the two teams meet tonight at Twelve Oaks Stadium.
"It's going to be wild and wooly for sure," Hughes said. "Starr's Mill is going to be ready to play. I know they are. We know they're tough, they're well-coached and discipline and we have to be ready to play."
Hughes said his team is not trying to worry about what happened last year; they're just taking the season one game at a time.
"Revenge is something we've been hearing a lot this week," Hughes said. "For us, it's just the next game. It's a big game for sure and you have to be ready to play anytime you play Starr's Mill. Coach (Mike) Earwood and his staff do a great job."
Starr's Mill (2-3) is coming off a 41-6 victory over Carver-Columbus two weeks ago. Lovejoy (4-0) also had a bye week last week. Two weeks ago, the Wildcats beat Fayette County 35-0 at Twelve Oaks.
"The bye week help us; it allowed us to get well," Hughes said. "We had some walking wounded, bangs and bruises but we're 100 percent now. The bye week came at a good time for us. We're also a young football team and it allowed is to slow some things down and work on some things."
Trying to stop Starr's Mill can be a daunting task. The Panthers have traditionally featured a bruising running attack that can wear defenses out.
"We have to line up and play their fullback game," Hughes said. "I don't know if you can completely stop it but we have to contain it a little bit."
On offense, Hughes isn't planning anything different in the Starr's Mill game as Lovejoy will try to spread the field and catch the Panthers off-balance.
"Offensively, we've just got to do what we do best," Hughes said. "We have to throw it, catch it and gain some yards after the catch. Starr's Mill plays a really aggressive, stingy defensive game and it's going to be tough."
The Lovejoy passing game has been solid this year with quarterback Kisan Flakes. Flakes has some pretty good targets with Dennis Thomas, Vernard Hoover and Santini Washington. When it comes to running the ball, Mark Pettaway and Aaron Williams have led the way. The offensive line is anchored by seniors Andy Lassiter, Derek Baker and Anthony Parker.
On defense, several guys have stepped up including lineman Parker, Jeremy Lomax, linebackers Keith Boykins, Robert Hall and defensive backs Keith Fitzhugh, Williams and Thomas.
On special teams, punter David McHone has also had a solid year.
Lovejoy enters tonight's game as the No. 6-ranked team in Class AAAAA in the AP high school football poll.
"It's tough every week in quint-A and in our region," Hughes said. "There's not a team in our region that couldn't beat you. It's a tough overall region and you have to be ready to play every week."