Photo by Derrick Mahone
Lovejoy defensive linemen Jamal Covington (left) and Malcolm Johnson catch their breath on the sideline. The Wildcats will rely on them and the rest of their best-in-Class-AAAA defense when they take on Warner Robins at Twelve Oaks Stadium on Friday.
Closer to a state championship than ever before, Eagle’s Landing Christian and Lovejoy will be introduced to a new concept Friday.
ELCA (12-1) takes on Landmark Christian (11-2) in the Class A semifinals while Lovejoy (13-0) takes on Warner Robins (11-2) in Class AAAA’s final four. For both, victory means a spot in a state championship game at the Georgia Dome.
Until this season, Lovejoy had never played a 13th game. ELCA had been to one quarterfinal, last year’s loss to Clinch County.
While Lovejoy never has met Warner Robins, the Wildcats have already had a taste of the Dome earlier this season. That’s where they routed Morrow 71-0 on Sept. 16, though there will be precious little comparison between Morrow and whichever opponent would await the Wildcats (Northside-Warner Robins or Tucker) if they beat Warner Robins.
Warner Robins is one of the state’s great turnaround stories. After four uncharacteristically subpar seasons, including last year’s 2-8 — their worst record since 1966 — the Demons bounced back this season to beat current Class AAAAA semifinalist Colquitt County and to dethrone last year’s Class AAAA champion, Chattahoochee, in the second round.
ELCA never has played in the Dome, but takes its step into the unfamiliar against a familiar foe. The Chargers meet Landmark Christian, which they defeated 35-14 on Oct. 14 in Fairburn, their fourth straight win in the series.
Whether that’s an advantage or a disadvantage depends on your viewpoint, and ELCA coach Jonathan Gess wants to make sure his team sees the game the most cautious way possible. A 21-point victory can give you confidence for a repeat or it can lead to overconfidence, which is exactly what Gess cautioned his team against minutes after they routed Seminole County 51-7 in the quarterfinals.
“You trained hard for Seminole County because you feared them,” Gess said.
The last thing Gess wants his players thinking is this human nature-esque thought: If we beat Landmark easily on the road, how much easier will it be to smack the War Eagles at home?
State playoff history is littered with teams who beat a regular-season opponent once, only to come up short against the same team when it counted most. One of the recent examples came from ELCA’s own region — when Holy Innocents’ couldn’t beat Wesleyan a second time in 2008. Wesleyan went on to win the state title that season.
So Gess is drumming it into the Chargers’ heads that they should fear Landmark — in terms of giving them their proper respect, not so much that they fear they will lose the game. They have bigger visions than dipping their toes into a little December football.
“Our goal is to win a state title,” Gess said.