Lovejoy looks to get over playoff hump

By Anthony Rhoads

Just about every high school football season, it's pretty much a given Lovejoy is going to make the playoffs.

Despite making the playoffs seven out of the last eight years, Lovejoy has not gotten past the second round.

"We're asking ourselves that question (of why we haven't made it past the second round)," Lovejoy head coach Al Hughes said. "I think it's a match-up problem. We haven't matched up well with some teams and haven't taken advantage of matchups when we've had them. I take full responsibility for that. The bottom line is we have to win and it's my responsibility to take them over the hump."

The Wildcats (8-3) will have a chance to go to the quarterfinals Friday if they beat Houston County (6-4-1).

Moving up: Since taking over for former head coach C.W. Campbell in 2001, Hughes has guided Lovejoy to a 38-9 record.

Hughes, who had a 15-35 record at Jonesboro from 1989-93, now has 53 victories as a head coach.

Hughes is the seventh-winningest coach in Clayton history behind Riverdale's Bill Kennedy (102 overall wins, 1978-95), Mt. Zion's Jackie Green (100, 1989-2004), Morrow's Bud Theodocian (80, 1977-87), North Clayton's Jimmy Clepper (65, 1966-79), North Clayton's Don Shockley (64, 1994-present), Lovejoy's C.W. Campbell (60, 1990-2000).

"I'm a very blessed individual to be where I am at," Hughes said.

Two of Hughes' current assistants, including his brother Steve Hughes and Bobby Ramsey, have been at Lovejoy since the school's first varsity season in 1990.

Quarterfinal matchup: If Lovejoy beats Houston County, the Wildcats will travel to play the winner of Parkview-McEachern.

Last year, Parkview lost to a Region 4-AAAAA opponent in the quarterfinals when Newnan beat the Panthers 20-14.

"One of my goals was to go to the orange jungle," Hughes said. "It would be a great honor to coach against Parkview and (head coach) Cecil Flowe. I want Lovejoy to have that tradition. We're getting there; when people talk about southside football, they talk a little bit about Lovejoy. It would be a great honor for our program to line up against the big boys."

Even though Lovejoy would love to play against Parkview, the team's ultimate goal is to make it to the Georgia Dome and to advance to the state finals.

"I think if we're hitting on all cylinders, I think people in the state of Georgia would have the chance to see us in the dome," Hughes said. "I think it would be neat to see that Columbia blue under the dome."

A look back: If Lovejoy beats Houston County, it will be the first time since 2000 a Clayton County football team has made it to the state quarterfinals.

In 2000, Mt. Zion made it to the playoffs and beat Camden County 28-16 in the opening round. The Bulldogs went on the road again and played Valosta, the perennial state power. The Bulldogs dismantled the Wildcats 34-14 in the second round but lost to Harrison 24-17 in the state quarterfinals.