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Mt. Zion, Lovejoy set to open new year early

By Anthony Rhoads

The 2004 high school football season is finally here.

Mt. Zion and Lovejoy will officially kick off the season tonight at Tara Stadium at 7:30.

It will be a game of contrasts featuring two very different football teams.

The main difference is how each team runs its offense. Lovejoy is known for its wide-open aerial attack while Mt. Zion is known for its bruising ground game.

But despite the differences in their offensive philosophies, few teams in the area can match the success they both have enjoyed over the past several years.

Lovejoy is coming off an 11-1 record from last year while Mt. Zion went 6-5.

"It's always hard to open with a good football team right away," Lovejoy head coach Al Hughes said. "I know (Mt. Zion head coach) Jackie Green will have them ready to play."

Even though Lovejoy would have to be considered the favorites, Hughes isn't taking anything for granted.

Hughes knows Mt. Zion is a dangerous football team and it's going to be a tough contest.

"We're going to have to play flawless on both sides of the ball," Hughes said. "We're going to have to be rugged because Mt. Zion is really rugged. We're going to have to control the football a little bit, if we don't, that will kill us."

Ball control is going to be important for both teams but it's going to be critical for Mt. Zion. Green wants to keep Lovejoy's quick-strike offense off the field as much as possible.

"We have to keep the ball out of their hands," Green said. "We're going to execute ball control because they can't score without the football."

n The series: The series is evenly-matched with Lovejoy and Mt. Zion winning six games each in 12 contests.

Last year, Lovejoy beat Mt. Zion 28-13.

n Flashback: With both teams going undefeated in 1999, Mt. Zion and Lovejoy opened the 2000 season in a highly-anticipated matchup at Tara Stadium.

Lovejoy won the season-opener 34-10 but Mt. Zion went on to go 8-2 in the regular season and advanced all the way to the quarterfinals of the Class AAAAA state playoffs. Lovejoy went 7-3 that year and failed to make the postseason.

n Rankings: Lovejoy is ranked ninth in Class AAAAA in the Associated Press pre-season high school football poll.

n Players to watch: Lovejoy ? running back Octavius Edge, wide receiver/defensive back Chris Hail, offensive and defensive lineman Chris Scott, defensive back Keith Fitzhugh. Mt. Zion ? linebacker/tight end Jamaal Clark, quarterback/defensive back Valin Leggett, running back/defensive end Derek Slaughter, linebacker Anthony Smith.

n Prediction: Lovejoy 21, Mt. Zion 14