By Doug Gorman
The Lovejoy Wildcats and Riverdale Raiders have had some interesting football battles over the years.
Starting in 1990, the two Clayton County Schools have played 13 times with Riverdale holding a 7-6 edge.
None of that matters. Not last year's 31-10 victory by Riverdale or the win by the Wildcats, who also beat the Raiders by the same score in 2007.
Those games are history, left to be debated and discussed by people who love to talk about teams from a bye-gone era.
The only thing Lovejoy head coach Al Hughes and Rivedale's Nick Davis care about now is what happens tonight at Southern Crescent Stadium when the two teams renew their rivalry in the Region 4-AAAAA opener for both teams.
Hughes, who has been the head coach at Lovejoy since 2001, and Davis, who is in his second-year of his second stint at Riverdale, share something in common - both of their teams need wins after less than stellar performances in their season openers last week against a pair of Class AAAA opponents.
The Wildcats dropped their opener to the Mt. Zion Bulldogs 15-0, while Riverdale also struggled to get its offense on track, falling to North Clayton 27-6 in the first football game ever played at Southern Crescent Stadium.
"We thought we had a pretty good team coming into the season, and we still think so, but things haven't really gone our way, and we have to change that," Hughes said Thursday afternoon.
Against Mt. Zion, the Wildcats were hurt by a combination of things, including an offense which only picked up 95 yards. Defensively, the Wildcats stayed on the football field too long, and gave up too much real estate, including 201 yards of rushing to Quanterrio Morgan.
Lovejoy was hurt before it even took the field last Friday night because of a rash of injuries and other factors that kept veteran players out of the lineup.
Wildcats wide receiver D.J. Smith was not at the game because of a family emergency. He is expected to be in the lineup against the Raiders.
"We were just used to throwing the ball up and letting him leap up and catch it," Hughes said. "Last week we got close to the end zone, and didn't have that option."
Hughes says there are still some injuries to deal with, but his team is getting better.
According to Hughes, the key to beating Riverdale is stopping their speed on offense.
"Our defense played well but also played too much," Hughes said last week. "This wasn't a typical Lovejoy game. We've got to work our problems out. We're not executing anything. But I'm not complaining. We've got good players."
In last week's game against North Clayton, Riverdale kept the contest close for a half and were tied with the Eagles 7-all at the break only to see the Eagles put together an offensive explosion in the final 16 minutes of play resulting in the non-region loss for Riverdale.
The Raiders did some things well against North Clayton.
Riverdale runs a combination spread and triple option, but quarterback Lamont Knox made it work last week, rushing for 92 yards, including a 72-yard scamper that went for the team's only score of the game. It was the longest play from scrimmage by either team.
"They have a lot of speed, and that's what we are going to have to stop," Hughes said.