By Jeffery Armstrong
It took three weeks, but the Lovejoy Wildcats finally broke into the win column Friday night with their 23-20 overtime win over the Riverdale Raiders in non-region action at Twelve Oaks.
What a relief it is.
Lovejoy players hugged each other, celebrated with coaches and rejoiced in the glow of getting their first win of the year. They had every reason to celebrate because this game wasn't easy for the Wildcats (1-2).
"The fans got their money's worth," said Lovejoy head coach Al Hughes. "It sure was nice to get this win. Our defensive coaches did a great job tonight. Riverdale is a class act and they really were tough."
Riverdale (1-2) outgained Lovejoy 340-173 with 320 of those yards coming on the ground. Riverdale's precise option attack befuddled Lovejoy for most of the game.
Raiders fullback Doug Jennings personally torched the Wildcats, carrying the ball 22 times for 157 yards.
The game started out bad for the Wildcats as running back Mark Pettaway collided with a teammate, causing him to fumble in Lovejoy territory. Riverdale fell on the ball and five plays later, Jennings ran 27 yards for a touchdown. The point-after made it 7-0 Riverdale.
Lovejoy sustained a drive in the waning moments of the first quarter, helped by a 43-yard run by Pettaway. The drive concluded with a 1-yard TD plunge by fullback Cornelius Early. The extra point was no good, so Riverdale led 7-6.
The score stayed that way until the third quarter. Riverdale drove 66 yards in seven running plays, ending with a 15-yard TD run by running back Normiez Reeves. The extra point was missed and Riverdale led 13-6. That miss would turn out to be a big play in the contest.
In the fourth quarter, McHone boomed a punt that was downed at the Raiders 6-yard line. Four plays later, Lovejoy defensive lineman Lee Isom broke up a pitch by Raiders quarterback Rod Mason deep in Raider territory. The ball bounced in the end zone where Lovejoy linebacker Patrick Jones fell on it for a touchdown at the 9:45 mark of regulation. The point-after by Maetias Ferreira tied the game at 13.
"I was trying to get the quarterback," said Isom, a junior. "I saw he was about to pitch the ball and put my hands up. I wanted to make a big-time play."
McHone then boomed the ensuing kickoff which looked like it was heading out of bounds. Riverdale's Kelvin Colbert tried to pick it up and run, but he fell down at the Raider 10. Mason fumbled the ball on the next play and Lovejoy's Keith Fitzhugh scooped the ball and ran five yards for a TD and a 20-13 lead eight seconds after the Jones touchdown.
Mason and the Raiders made up for the turnover on the next series, sustaining a 13-play, six-minute drive which ended with Mason pitching the ball to Reeves, who scored from two yards out. The extra point tied the game at 20 with 3:32 left in regulation.
Neither team scored before the final buzzer, so the game went to overtime. Riverdale won the toss, but deferred to Lovejoy. In overtime, both teams start drives on the opponents' 15-yard line.
After three running plays, Ferreira booted a 30-yard field goal for the 23-20 lead. On Riverdale's possession, Jennings fumbled the ball on his second carry and Lovejoy's Dale Gibson recovered the ball, ending the game.
"We finally came together as a team tonight," said McHone, a senior. "I think this will get us going in the right direction."