By Brian Paglia
As Glynn Academy punter Ben Fendig fell to the ground, knocked over well after he had let forth a kick that would give Lovejoy the ball with enough time for a game-winning drive, the referee's flag went up. Glynn Academy's sideline erupted in celebration. Lovejoy's sideline stood in stunned silence.
The roughing the kicker penalty gave the Red Terrors an automatic first down and the luxury of running out the clock for a 7-6 upset win at No. 7 Lovejoy in the first round of the Class AAAA playoffs Friday.
Lovejoy (10-1) felt it had returned to the prominence it enjoyed from 1999-2004 after a five-season slide into anonymity. The Wildcats came in 5-1 in first-round state playoff games at Twelve Oaks Stadium.
Instead, Lovejoy was its first opening round loss at home since a 13-10 loss to Sequoyah in 1997, according to the Georgia High School Football Historians Assocation.
"We had a great year," Lovejoy coach Al Hughes said. "Went 10-0 in the regular season, region champs. It was a great year. We wanted to do more with it. It just didn't work out for us."
A rash of penalties and two special teams mistakes doomed Lovejoy. The Wildcats were called for eight penalties, including one that ruined a 75-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter.
Red Terrors linebacker James Dean twice came cleanly up the middle to block a kick, once on an extra point and another on a 26-yard field goal attempt that would've given Lovejoy the lead late in the fourth quarter.
"If we kick a field goal, we win the game," Hughes said. "(Glynn Academy) did a good job, executed the block. They go on, we stay home."
Lovejoy had seized the momentum in the fourth quarter when David Washington blocked a punt and the Wildcats recovered on their own 5. David Hubbard (11 carries, 88 yards, one touchdown) scored on a 5-yard run three plays later, but Dean blocked Tyler Hunt's extra point to preserve Glynn Academy's 7-6 lead.
"They block four or five kicks every game, and they got one on us," Glynn Academy coach Rod Ridings said. "They shouldn't have got that. It was a bad snap."
Yet, on the Red Terrors' ensuing possession, Dean fumbled on the second play. Lovejoy recovered on its own 15 and was poised to take the lead. Three running plays produced just six yards, which brought Hunt out to attempt a 26-yard field goal to give Lovejoy the lead.
Instead, Dean blocked Hunt's kick.
Glynn Academy had just 86 yards of offense, all on the ground. But after Lovejoy quarterback Vic Hardison was intercepted, Chris Wood's 44-yard touchdown run with 6:22 left in the second quarter put the Red Terrors up 7-0.
"Nodody's had them down that early, especially at half," Ridings said, "and it was probably something different for them they hadn't had to handle."
Wood's touchdown run was the only blemish on an otherwise impressive defensive performance by Lovejoy. Glynn Academy went just 1-for-8 on third-down conversions and averaged just 2.8 yards per carry.
"Our defense has played great all year," Hughes said. "They didn't miss a beat all year long. They had one play, just one play. We just couldn't bring it home."