Photo by Derrick Mahone
Lovejoy offensive coordinator Craig Chatman (center) talks with wide receiver JuMichael Ramos (6) and quarterback Alejandro Bennefield on the sidelines during the fourth quarter of the its win over Kell.
All seasons, Lovejoy has relied on its defense to make the big plays.
So, it should come as no surprise that the sixth-ranked Wildcats’ 15-10 win over Kell in the second round of the Class AAAA playoffs was a direct reflection of the team’s defense.
Clinging to its five-point lead with just under three minutes remaining, and Kell driving in its territory, Lovejoy’s defense answered the call. Wildcats linebacker Nathaniel Norwood burst through the Kell offensive line and stripped quarterback Clay Dodson of the ball as Veion Robinson recovered it for Lovejoy.
From there, the offense got a first down and ran out the clock for the historic win at Twelve Oaks Stadium on a cold fall night.
“There was this wise old coach that said defense wins championships,” Lovejoy coach Al Hughes said. “God bless our defensive staff. They did a great job, and thank the Lord for our offensive coaches too. They all did a great job in the win.”
Norwood, a junior, said he had to seize the moment to help the team.
“It was third and long, and I had to be a playmaker,” he said. “I knew I had to make a big play in that situation. This was nothing new for our team.”
But the win was for the Lovejoy program. This was the first time in school history that Lovejoy has advanced to the quarterfinals of the playoffs. Its 12 wins are also the most in school history.
“We made history, thank God,” Lovejoy senior defensive back Rico McWilliams said. “The community is going to love this. We had to show that this wasn’t a weak region.”
With the win, Lovejoy will host ninth-ranked Ware County, which defeated Region 8-AAAA champion Heritage-Conyers, 24-3, on the road.
“I’m just so happy with the win,” Lovejoy defensive coordinator Kevin Jones said. “What we said last week was that our speed would eventually wear them down. We just had to stay patient. They played slow ball, and we wanted to get them in passing situations. Not their passing situations, but ours.”
That strategy seemed to work.
Senior defensive back Jermaine Hough, who has committed to play at Jacksonville State, had two big interceptions. The first came in the closing seconds of the first half as Kell (9-3) was driving deep into the Wildcats’ territory.
Lovejoy trailed 10-3 at halftime.
After Kell stopped the Wildcats at its 1-yard line, Hough came up with another big play. He intercepted his second pass of the night to set the Wildcats up at Kell’s 15. It only took three plays before Christian Hill scored on a 7-yard run with 2:18 remaining in the third as Lovejoy trailed 10-9 after missing the extra-point.
But the defense came to the rescue again as Lovejoy linebacker Eugene Fuller returned a fumble 39 yards with 9:27 remaining to give the Wildcats a 15-10 lead.
“We had to come in and make big plays,” Hough said. “The whole team stepped up. This was for coach Hughes. He has never had a team go this far.”