By Jeffery Armstrong
Mt. Zion Bulldogs' head football coach Jackie Green made it clear that tonight's game against the Lovejoy Wildcats is important, but it won't be the biggest game of the year for his team.
"Lovejoy is a great football team, but they won't be the best team we'll face all year ? not as tough as our region is," Green said.
Mt. Zion, out of Region 2-AAAAA, will host Region 4-AAAAA top contender and county rival Lovejoy tonight at Tara Stadium at 7:30 p.m. Lovejoy is ranked No. 9 in Class AAAAA and is coming off a 42-18 win over Forest Park. Mt. Zion will be playing its first game of the season.
Green said it will be a big challenge for his team to defeat the Wildcats two years in a row. Last year, Mt. Zion defeated Lovejoy 20-18. The Bulldogs lead the series between schools, 6-5.
"We have to play ball control this year. Last season, we kept the football the whole game and kept Lovejoy's offense off the field," he said.
Green said Mt. Zion can't afford to get into a track meet with the Wildcats, but he emphasized that his team does have some speed of its own.
"We've got speed in the secondary and our linebackers are pretty fast," he said. "We have the same secondary as last season, so I hope that's an advantage for us."
Green said the game plan against Lovejoy is to show up and play solid defense.
"There may be a little bit of a revenge factor for Lovejoy, but I hope we can overcome that," said Green.
Wildcats head football coach Al Hughes disagrees with the notion that his team wants revenge against Mt. Zion.
"We're not seeking revenge against Mt. Zion. Sure, we remember last year's game, but our kids just want to win game No. 2," Hughes said. "This is a big game, especially for bragging rights and all that, but outside of that, it's business as usual for the Wildcats."
Hughes said Lovejoy needs to play aggressive defense against Mt. Zion's ground attack, hitting them hard and causing turnovers.
"If we play defense the way we're capable of, we should be okay," Hughes said.
Mt. Zion's ground attack will be missing several key components, as the Bulldogs lost several of their massive offensive linemen to college teams. Bulldogs' senior quarterback Emory Clark doesn't think the revamped line will be a problem.
"I'm confident in this year's o-line; there are some juniors and sophomores who can do the job," he said.
Clark said the Bulldogs are focused on more than just beating Lovejoy or any other opponent this year.
"Our main goal is to get back to the state playoffs," he said. "We just want to line up against whoever's in front of us and go about our business."