By Brian Howard
Ola Ajao's 57-yard field goal try with 3 seconds remaining fell short as Starr's Mill held on to beat Lovejoy, 20-19, in a Region 4-AAAAA game Friday night at Twelve Oaks Stadium.
Trailing in the final 1:08 and playing without quarterback Mario Fannin due to an earlier injury, the Wildcats were able to get the ball to their own 40-yard line after a Kyle Lacy completion to Octavious Edge. Lovejoy head coach Al Hughes, however, went third-string quarterback Ryan Williamson to try and get into field goal range.
"Ryan Williamson had been in the program for awhile," Hughes said. "We felt like he had a little more arm strength. We knew we were going to have to throw the ball down the field a little bit."
Williamson completed a 14-yard pass to Kevin Lewis, then connected again on a pass toward the sidelines that was ruled incomplete, setting up Ajao's try.
"I think we caught the last one (pass) down there," Hughes said following the fourth meeting between teams in five years that was decided by one point. "We felt like he caught the ball and got out of bounds, but they called it no catch. That would have been another ten yards."
Fannin ran the ball 15 times for 130 yards and one fumble. He was also 8 of 14 passing for 65 yards. However, the senior quarterback left the game early in the fourth quarter with a right ankle sprain.
Lacy was 6 of 12 passing for 83 yards, while Williamson completed one pass for 14 yards
The Wildcats (2-3 overall, 0-1 region) opened the game with a 26-yard field goal by Joseph Dubois on their first drive, giving Lovejoy a 3-0 lead with 7:13 left in the opening quarter.
After forcing a Starr's Mill punt, Lovejoy got the ball at its own 25 and Fannin hit Edge for what appeared to be a short gain, that the senior back turned into an apparent 75 yard touchdown. But a personal-foul penalty negated the score.
Starr's Mill (5-1, 2-0) capitalized, putting together a 9-play drive that began at the end of the first quarter and was capped by a Robby Davis 1-yard plunge to open the second. Keegan Hanie added the point after, giving Starr's Mill a 7-3 lead with 10:41 left in the first half.
With 4:42 remaining before halftime, the Panthers were forced to punt, and Erick Murphy got off a kick that rolled dead at the Wildcats' 30. However, a personal foul penalty against Starr's Mill forced the Panthers to punt the football again.
It proved costly, as Lewis fielded the re-kick at the Starr's Mill 49, broke toward the left sideline, before cutting back to find a crease for a score and a 10-7 lead. Ajao added a 38-yard field goal right before halftime, pushing the Lovejoy advantage to 13-7 at halftime.
Short field position played a factor in the third quarter, as the Panthers had drives beginning at the Wildcats' 33 and 25, eventually leading to Greg Davis' 2-yard run, giving Starr's Mill a 14-13 lead with 2:08 left in the period.
Fannin fumbled on the next Lovejoy drive, but the Wildcats canceled it out when Panther standout Greg Davis, who carried the ball 27 times for 112 yards, coughed it up at the Lovejoy 7 with 11:28 left in the game.
But the next series was Fannin's last. On the latter of two consecutive keepers, the Wildcat quarterback broke loose from several tackles, scrambling 28 yards before being caught by three defenders and hobbling to the sidelines.
Lacy completed the drive by taking the Wildcats to the Panthers' 10, before Edge ran off right tackle and into the end zone for the score. The 2-point conversion attempt failed, giving Lovejoy a 19-14 lead.
The Panthers answered with an 11-play, 80-yard drive as Greg Davis scored on a 5-yard run. The 2-point conversion attempt failed, with Starr's Mill holding on to a 20-19 lead with 2:50 remaining.
"It was a hard-fought battle," Hughes said. "It was a heartbreaking defeat. We lost to a good football team and we made too many mistakes."
Both teams committed 11 penalties, with Starr's Mill's finishing at 103 yards to the Wildcats' 87.
Lovejoy travels to Fayette County next Friday.