Photo by Jerry Jackson Lovejoy's defense has overwhelmed oppoents this season and has certainly gotten the attention of Norcross coach Keith Maloof. "Lovejoy's whole defense is tremendous," Maloof said.
Lovejoy coach Al Hughes will know how focused his Wildcats are on winning a state championship tonight based on how they handle the Georgia Dome’s Jumbotron scoreboard.
“Last year we prepared good. The results I think were based on the fear of the unknown,” said Hughes in reference to Lovejoy’s loss to Tucker in last year’s Class AAAA final.
“We got up to the dome and even though we’d played there before, different kind of atmosphere. Lights on sound up and big scoreboard went up, we spent a lot of time looking up and we should’ve been looking around.”
Looking around at the other team, that is.
Tucker handed Lovejoy a 22-7 defeat that was not as close as the score indicated. The state title game was not the first time the Wildcats had played in the Dome, however. Lovejoy defeated Morrow 71-0 in a regular season game at the Dome last season.
But Hughes said there is a big difference between playing Morrow — or any team for that matter — in the regular season and Tucker in the state title game.
Hughes, who is the first Clayton County coach to lead a team to two consecutive state title games, said that in retrospect, the stage was too big for Lovejoy which made its first ever trip to the game in 2011.
And some of his best players won’t argue with him.
“I guess you get in there and you see the big crowd and that big Jumbotron flat screen,” Fields said. “This isn’t like the TV in your living room. We definitely kind of had that dear in the headlights look last year.”
But nose tackle Nathaniel Norwood, who on many occasions has been called the leader of Lovejoy’s defense, said there’s been a change in the Wildcats’ psyche over the last 12 months.
“We’re used to it now,” he said. “We’ve been on TV now multiple times. We’ve been in front of the cameras. We’re not even trying to focus on that. We’re just trying to get the ring.”
And to do that, Lovejoy will face its stiffest challenge yet. The Norcross Blue Devils come as the top-ranked team in the state, while boasting one of the best running backs in the state in Alvin Kamara.
Kamara has rushed for 2,120 yards and 25 touchdowns this season. He is a consensus four star recruit who has garnered scholarship offers from the likes of Alabama and Georgia.
But he has put aside all talk of his future in order to focus on the present task at hand — winning a state title. It’s an attitude that has impressed his coach Keith Maloof.
“He’s just like any other teenager,” said Maloof, who has been Norcross’ head coach for 14 years. “He enjoys the attention and the moment. He enjoys having fun. But he’s doing it the right way. He’s been able to manage it all and he’s focused on helping his team win a state title.”
Kamara won’t be the only star running back on the nfield Saturday who’s hungry for a state title. Lovejoy’s Travis Custis has also eclipsed the 2,000 yard rushing mark this season, and is fresh off a 290 yard, five touchdown performance in Lovejoy’s 63-42 semifinal win against North Cobb.
But while billing this game as a clash between two star tailbacks would be easy, Maloof said it won’t be that simple.
“You can’t just say it’s the Alvin and Travis show,” Maloof said. “Lovejoy’s whole defense is tremendous. They’ve got a really good quarterback. Big offensive line. Just a great, all around team that will give us a huge challenge.”
Ditto to Norcross, says Lovejoy coach Al Hughes.
“Obviously Kamara is an outstanding player,” Hughes said. “He’s got all the intangibles. Great speed, shifty. But they’ve got a lot of other weapons as well.”
From coaches to players, everyone seems to be expecting the outcome of the game to be unknown until late in the fourth quarter.
But according to Fields, there is one thing he knows won’t be a question.
“We’ll be ready to play,” he said. “It’s all about focus now. If you didn’t know how to block before now, it’s too late. We’ve been there before. We feel (the Dome) is our house. We know it’s going to be high tempo and some adversity but we’ll be ready.”