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Third downs come back to haunt Lovejoy

Photo by Jason Mussell
Lovejoy plays walk off the field dejected after their 21-14 loss to Norcross in the Class AAAAAA title game on Saturday in the Georgia Dome.

Photo by Jason Mussell Lovejoy plays walk off the field dejected after their 21-14 loss to Norcross in the Class AAAAAA title game on Saturday in the Georgia Dome.

ATLANTA — The pattern had become familiar for the Lovejoy Wildcats’ defense the past two seasons. Defined by its speed and ferocity, the unit prevented opposing offenses from sustaining drives that kept Lovejoy’s offense off the field.

But that identity fell apart in the second half of the Wildcats’ 21-14 loss to No. 1-ranked Norcross in the Class AAAAAA championship at the Georgia Dome on Saturday.

The Blue Devils (15-0) converted 9 of 16 third downs, including 5 of 7 in the second half, to leave Lovejoy (13-2) a victory short of a state title for the second straight season.

“What hurt us was not getting off the field in the second half,” Lovejoy defensive coordinator Kevin Jones said.

Though Lovejoy took a 14-3 lead with 1:34 left in the third quarter, Norcross had already converted half of its third downs. The surprise was that Blue Devils star running back Alvin Kamara only accounted for two of those conversions by then.

Instead, it was quarterback Joseph Wilbur with a 1-yard run here and a 10-yard run there; wide receiver Clinton Lynch with a four-yard catch; or wide receiver Trey Smith with an 8-yard catch.

Eventually it caught up to Lovejoy.

When Norcross faced third-and-8 on Lovejoy’s 11-yard line early in the fourth quarter, Wilbur connected with running back Myles Autry over the middle to cut the Wildcats’ lead to 14-9 after a missed extra point.

One possession later the Blue Devils faced third-and-19 on their own 39. Wilbur connected with Kamara on a fade route down the left sideline for a 61-yard touchdown to give Norcross a 15-14 lead.

And when Lovejoy needed to stop Norcross on third-and-8 with 2:28 left in the game still trailing by one point, Kamara broke off a 16-yard run for a first down.

Two plays later, Kamara scored to make it 21-14.

“The second half they came out scoring,” Lovejoy nose guard Nathaniel Norwood said. “We couldn’t put up points and we as a defense let them score. I guess they had a different momentum coming out of the second half.”

“Third down we just got to keep our eyes out of the backfield and pay attention to our line and assignments, things we’re supposed to do,” Jones said. “On third down we knew what was coming and we knew who was going to get the ball. We just didn’t execute. They made the plays.”

Meanwhile, Lovejoy’s offense was just 3-for-11 on third downs, including 0-for-3 in the second half.

“The second half wasn’t what we thought it was going to be,” Norwood said.