Lovejoy, Warner Robins pin hopes on strong D

Photo by Derrick Mahone
Lovejoy offensive coordinator Craig Chatman’s unit will face a Warner Robins defense that is giving up 13 points per game this season.

Photo by Derrick Mahone Lovejoy offensive coordinator Craig Chatman’s unit will face a Warner Robins defense that is giving up 13 points per game this season.

Lovejoy and Warner Robins share a couple similarities heading into tonight’s Class AAAA semifinal game.

Both teams hang their hopes on defense.

Each team has recovered from a disappointing 2010 season. Although Lovejoy went 10-0 in the regular season, the Wildcats’ season crashed with a first-round playoff loss.

“The returning players we have from last year stood on the field and saw the scoreboard say we lost 7-6,” Lovejoy coach Al Hughes said. “Biggest difference with this year’s team is better chemistry.”

Warner Robins, a program that boasts four state titles, had a more devastating season as it struggled to a 2-8 finish. It was the team’s worst season in 44 years. The Demons are making the most of their first playoff appearance in four years.

“These things come in cycles,” Hughes said. “We are well aware of Warner Robins’ rich tradition. Being in this position is a great thing for Lovejoy in general. We are one step away from the goal everyone hopes to have, and that is to be a state champion.”

The winner advances to the Georgia Dome for next week’s championship against the Tucker-Northside-Warner Robins winner.

Through 13 games, Lovejoy’s defense has been dominating. The sixth-ranked Wildcats are allowing opponents only 3.5 points per game and have eight shutouts, including a 14-0 victory against Ware County last week.

The special teams have been equally as impressive for Lovejoy, with blocked 20 kicks (17 punts, two PATs and one field goal).

Lovejoy’s defense will be put to the test as it must stop Warner Robins’ running back duo of Brian Sutton and Stephon Cross. Sutton has rushed for 923 yards and 14 touchdowns while Cross has 581 yards and seven touchdowns.

The Demons rely mostly on the running game with 2,731 yards rushing and 1,157 through the air.

“We know they are a good football team,” Hughes said. “At this point, all the teams are good. Our main focus has to be on Lovejoy, because we have to do what we can do to be successful.”

And that success has been dependent on a stingy defense and a multiple offense led by junior Travis Custis. The 210-pound running back has 1,675 yards rushing and 29 touchdowns. He had 203 yards, including a 62-yard scoring run, in last week’s win over Ware County.

“We used to try and spread it around,” Lovejoy offensive coordinator Craig Chatman said. “Now, we are running it. In the second half against Ware, we only passed the ball four times. The big difference is we believe in all our running backs. We believe in our offensive line.”

Warner Robins has allowed 156 points, an average of 12 points per game. However, 91 of those points came in three games, and Warner Robins has held seven opponents to single digits, including two shutouts.

“At times, our defense has played pretty well, but we’ve been a little inconsistent in some games,” Warner Robins coach Bryan Way told the Macon Telegraph. “The last two weeks, the defense has played really well. Hopefully, we’re finding a little groove and getting some confidence because we’re going to need that against a good football team.”