Photo by Derrick Mahone
Alejandro Bennifield threw two touchdown passes last week as Lovejoy made good on its vow not to lose a home game this season. On Friday, the Wildcats will try to transfer that home energy to the Georgia Dome, where they will play Tucker for the Class AAAA championship.
So, what do you call on 14th down and the longest yard?
That’s the figurative question Lovejoy and Tucker are trying answer this week as they prepare for the most important four quarters of football of the season. Each has knocked 14 opponents down and has the biggest one to go. Don’t expect a lot of tricks from either the Wildcats or the Tigers.
“The greatest thing about this game is whatever got you there is going to be what you go with,” Lovejoy defensive coordinator Kevin Jones said Monday. “They’re fast and we’re fast. Fast offense. Fast defense. Makes it exciting for the fans. We kind of look like twin brothers, twin cats or whatever you want to call it and now we’re going to go out in the backyard and get it on.”
Actually, this will be the only playoff game the Wildcats don’t play in their backyard at Twelve Oaks Stadium. The big game will be at the big venue, the Georgia Dome.
Not only are they the most important four quarters of the season, but indeed the most important four quarters in Lovejoy history. They’re all that stands between the Wildcats and their first state championship — that and a Tucker team going for its second title in coach Franklin Stephens’ five seasons.
Though Jones and Stephens are longtime buddies, neither’s team has had the occasion to play the other until now. Tucker hails from Region 6-AAAA, touted by many as one of the state’s best. When the Tigers won Class AAAA in 2008, they beat Marist 15-3 after losing to the same team 38-0 during the regular season.
But the Wildcats have something to prove about hailing from Region 4-AAAA and Clayton County.
“We’ve felt like we haven’t been respected,” Jones said. “Truthfully, because of the history of our teams in the playoffs, some of that has been deserved. But the kids never forgot losing (to Glynn Academy in the first round last year) on their home turf. We felt like we let Clayton County down, like we let our region down. That helped us prepare. That gave us our why.”
That’s why the Wildcats are so determined. That’s why they found a way, led by Alejandro Bennifield’s two touchdown passes and Jermaine Hough’s two interceptions, to defeat Warner Robins 21-6 in the semifinals last week.
“We said we were not going to lose at home for any reason and we held serve,” Jones said.
Can they transfer that energy to a neutral field? They are plenty motivated.
“They want, oh so much, to show we play football in Clayton County,” Jones said. “Strong football is played out here. When people talk about Clayton County and their region, they don’t like that. That made them play faster than ever. They see people talk about Clayton County and our region and they’re so anxious to get on that field and prove that we belong.”