Photo by Derrick Mahone
The last time Mount Zion played in the Georgia Dome 1999, Bulldogs coach Jamie Aull was playing offensive line in the Class AAA semifinals game against Marist. Mount Zion deated second-ranked Marist 10-7 on a last season field goal.
Lovejoy coach Al Hughes has been waiting on this day for a long time.
Like many coaches, he has always wanted the opportunity for his team to play in the Georgia Dome. Since he could never secure an invitation into the Corky Kell Kickoff Classic, and his team has never advanced to the state playoff rounds held at the dome, Hughes has always been a spectator in the downtown facility.
All that will change this afternoon when his team takes on Region 4-AAAA rival Morrow in the opening game of the Great American Football Classic being held at the Dome.
Hughes can now cross off coaching from the sidelines of the Georgia Dome from his bucket list.
“I could never solidify an invitation to the Corky Kell Kickoff Classic so I bought tickets to go watch the Corky Kell at the Georgia Dome and framed those tickets,” Hughes said. “At the beginning of every year, I would pull that frame out and show all the players.
“I’d say ‘we all want to go the Georgia Dome someday where I don’t have to buy a ticket,’” he said. “When I found out we were scheduled to go the dome this year I was thrilled. It looks like I’m going to get my chance to go to the dome at least once in my career without having to buy a ticket.”
Only two teams from Clayton County — Mount Zion and Riverdale — have ever played in the Dome. Both earned their way there by reaching the state semifinals, which was previously held there before the championship round was moved to the facility.
Riverdale lost 17-14 in the 1998 semifinals to Peach County while Mount Zion defeated Marist 10-7 in 1999 at the dome.
Saturday will make the first time that Mount Zion will return to the dome since that thrilling win over Marist, which came on a last-season field goal to help the Bulldogs advance to the state championship game.
Current Bulldogs coach Jamie Aull was an all-state lineman on that 1999 team.
But the coach said he hasn’t said much to his team about his playing experience at the Dome.
“I have not talked to them about it, because I want them to make their own memories of playing in the dome,” Aull said. “It was great what we did, but this team has to create their own memories.”
All the players are fired up about stepping onto that field at the dome, which has played host to NFL playoff, SEC Championship and bowl games.
“I was hoping that the week would just fly by,” Drew senior Jadarius West said.
With this being a new experience for all the players, coaches are a little concern that they don’t get caught up in the moment, but realize winning the game, and not just being in the dome is more important.
“I think once they walk on the field, and realize the air in there is no different than being outdoors, we will be OK,” said Drew coach Jarrett Laws, whose team plays top-ranked Sandy Creek Saturday afternoon.
Aull said his approach to the game is no different than any other week.
“I’m concerned every week about this team, regardless if we are playing at Tara Stadium or in the Georgia Dome,” Aull said. “I think it’s going to be fun for this team. I’m sure everybody is fired up. It is a good deal for us.”