By Derrick Mahone
The only guarantee about tonight's Region 4-AAAA matchup between North Clayton and Lovejoy is that it can't end in a tie.
Both teams have lived up to the high expectations of their preseason billings, but tonight's game will be the first major test of the young season for each.
The 10-ranked Eagles have outscored their opponents - Riverdale and Mundy's Mill - 69-0 through their first two games while Lovejoy beat Mundy's Mill 27-0 two weeks ago in its only game.
North Clayton is coming off consecutive playoff appearances, while Lovejoy is expected to be much-improved after moving down from Class AAAAA. The Wildcats have eight players that have already received college scholarship offers.
"It is going to be a challenge because everybody wants to beat North Clayton," Eagles coach Rodney Hackney said. "In this region, every week is a challenge."
Lovejoy players realize the importance of the game. The Wildcats have not been to the playoffs since the 2004 season when they reached the second round.
"If we beat them, they we can make a name for ourselves," Lovejoy running back Rayshad Samuel said. "This is a real important game for us."
The Wildcats are coming off a bye week after its 27-0 win over Mundy's Mill in the season-opener on August 27 at Twelve Oaks. Hugh said he is not a fan of an early bye week.
"I don't like it this early," he said. "The most improvement you can make is between the first and second game. North Clayton is a heck of a football team, and it is obvious that we have to have all our ducks in a row."
Through the first two games of the season, the Eagles don't appear to miss all-state running back Clarence Jackson, who led the state in rushing last season with 1,954 yards and 31 touchdowns. Sophomore Ladarrius Mathis has taken up the running slack. He has 452 yards and four touchdowns in the first two games.
But he has not done it alone for the Eagles' offense. Michael Ross has 92 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the Eagles' two wins. He also has the two longest runs of the season for the team.
North Clayton's defense has also been solid in scoring 18 points this season, two on fumble returns and once on an interception.
"We know we are going to have to be fundamentally sound against Lovejoy," North Clayton defensive coordinator Max Wiltz said. "We are going to have to be consistent and not over run plays. We definitely got our work cut out for us."
Lovejoy running backs Rayshad Samuel and Travis Custis combined for 159 of the team's 217 yards against Mundy's Mill with each scoring a touchdown.
The Eagles defense has given an average of only 113 yards in their first two games.
"We've heard a lot about their defense," Samuel said. "They have been doing well."