By Brian Paglia
The buses arrived late for the trip to Athens, and it portended the kind of night Lovejoy was to have. Kickoff was delayed, warming up was cut short and the Wildcats never found their rhythm in their 36-12 loss to Clarke Central in their scrimmage last Friday.
For a Lovejoy team with a young group of returning starters, this was not the kind of start they wanted. It was imperative, coach Al Hughes said, for something good to happen for the Wildcats following a year of so much bad.
"We needed to have some success early," Hughes said. "They ran the opening kickoff back, and our bruised self-esteem crumbled under us."
The kickoff return wasn't the only big play Lovejoy surrendered. There was also an interception returned for a touchdown, a long home run pass for a score and a poor punt that gave Clarke Central excellent field position for another touchdown.
Compounding Lovejoy's problems were injuries to four regular starters: two running backs, a cornerback and 6-foot-5, 330-pound junior offensive lineman Lamont Hardy. Hughes said half of the injured should return for Lovejoy's season-opener Friday against Mt. Zion, though he wouldn't specify.
But Hughes did praise his quarterback, junior Vic Hardison, who "did a good job leading. He had a nice touch on the ball, especially since he didn't have much time to throw." And wide receiver Christian Catchings was also impressive.
Lovejoy's defense was also a bright spot, according to Hughes. Linebackers Hondo Carter and Robert Smith, freshman defensive end A.J. Jackson, Nick Smith and Alex Thomas all played well, he said.
Which leaves Hughes still believing in his team, despite Friday's outcome.
"I think we're going to be OK," Hughes said. "I'm still excited about us. We've got some good athletes."
Woodland coach Scott Schmitt doesn't believe much in looking at the scoreboard at scrimmages. So he didn't mind the look of the Wolfpack's 22-10 loss to Dutchtown last Friday.
With 10 starters returning on offense and eight on defense, the task for Schmitt was to find was talent lies beneath the No. 1 spots on the depth chart.
So it was encouraging for Schmitt to see the performance of his No. 2 and No. 3 teams, those that will surely be called upon to provide timely rest for starters or emergency relief for the injured.
"We found some guys that can provide comparable back up," Schmitt said. "Say someone cramps up and needs a break; who was going to be able to step up in there and absorb plays until they can get back in there? That's what I took from the scrimmage. I want to see where my depth is."
And Schmitt said he came away pleased with his depth, confident enough to finalize his depth chart Sunday as the Wolfpack anticipate their season-opener at nationally-ranked Lowndes Friday.
It is a testament, Schmitt said, to the player development of the lower levels within Woodland's program.
"I have to give credit to the younger programs," Schmitt said.
"We've been able to keep the ninth graders together and build over the years, year after year."
Union Grove wins:
Playing against one of the Alabama high school powers, the Wolverines beat Vigor 12-7 at home Saturday night.