STOVALL: Lovejoy’s 2012 version top of the line

Gabriel Stovall

Gabriel Stovall

Alright, I said one more game and we’d talk.

One more game, and I’d answer the question that I posed in August: Is this 2012 version Lovejoy’s best ever football team?

I know what the knee jerk induced answer may be.

This year’s Lovejoy team was 12-2. Last year’s team was 14-1. With both teams losing in the state championship game, and last year’s team have lost one less game, wouldn’t the obvious answer to my question be “no?”

Perhaps. But in the words of ESPN’s Lee Corso: Not so fast, my friends.

Wins and losses alone do not a best team make. The fact that neither team won the ultimate prize makes the comparison a little tougher. If Lovejoy holds on to its 14-3 lead late in the game Saturday against Norcross, we wouldn’t even need to have this discussion.

Be that as it may, the Wildcats lost again at the Dome — just like they did in 2011. But that, in my opinion, is where the comparisons must begin and end.

Let’s look at some stats first. The 2011 Wildcats dominated its way through Region 4-AAAA with a punishing defense that surrendered an absurd four points per game. But the offense basically comprised of Travis Custis left, Travis Custis right and Travis Custis up the middle.

This year with Custis rushing for over 2,000 yards and finding the endzone 37 times, and quarterback Alejandro Bennifield passing for over 2,400 yards, the Wildcats became more than formidable on offense. In fact, their 41.6 points per game average was the best in Georgia’s largest class. That’s a whole two touchdowns better than last year’s average of 27 points a game.

Competition? Although the overall record of Lovejoy’s 2011 foes (98-72) was better than this season’s 94-81 mark, It is arguable that Lovejoy’s playoff opponents this season (Tri-Cities, Marietta, North Gwinnett, North Cobb and Norcross) were stronger teams than last year’s list of Upson-Lee, Kell, Ware County, Warner Robins and Tucker.

Many, including this sportswriter, were curious at the beginning of the season how Lovejoy would handle the uptick in competition it would experience in Class AAAAAA — especially during playoff time.

Some will say the Wildcats caught some breaks with traditional state powers Lowndes and Grayson being ousted in earlier rounds before they could tangle with Lovejoy.

I say you can’t penalize a team for who they didn’t get a chance to play.

Last year’s team had four seniors sign college scholarships to play football. This year, at least six players will sign letters of intent to play Division I ball.

And yes, even though both teams lost their state title games, you can even find answers to my question hidden in the way each team lost. Last year, even coach Al Hughes and several of his standout players admitted that the stage was a little too big for them. They got caught gawking at the big screen. They were too busy marveling at the television cameras and basking in the unprecedented attention.

It showed as Tucker ran past Lovejoy 22-7 in a game that wasn’t as close as the scoreboard suggested.

But nobody who was at the Georgia Dome for Saturday’s epic Class AAAAAA title game against Norcross can deny that Lovejoy didn’t belong on that stage. Not only did the Wildcats play top-ranked Norcross tougher than any other team this season, Lovejoy had a 14-3 lead over the Blue Devils heading into the fourth quarter.

They could literally smell redemption. A pair of late Alvin Kamara touchdowns pushed Norcross ahead, but even then, Lovejoy had a legitimate shot at sending the game into overtime before a Norcross interception sealed the Wildcats’ fate.

Also, for those who may bemoan the fact that Lovejoy came up short a second straight time, understand that the Southern Crescent has never...never had a team make back to back trips to a state final. And the Wildcats did it in their first year playing in Georgia’s highest classification.

With a 37-4 record over the last three years, three straight region titles and back-to-back appearances in state championship games, Lovejoy has cemented itself as an ever rising Georgia high school football power. According to coach Al Hughes, next year’s bunch is already planning for a return trip to the Dome. That means the championship mentality is firmly in place.

And it couldn’t have happened if not for the exploits of this year’s squad.

“We have set a foundation for the rest of these guys to build upon,” said senior defensive end Zane Fields shortly after Saturday’s game.

Ladies and gentleman, I have come to the conclusion that there has been no better football team to grace Lovejoy High School than the 2012 Lovejoy Wildcats.

Feel free to disagree, but don’t expect me to change my mind.

Gabriel Stovall covers sports for the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald newspapers. He can be reached at gstovall@news-daily.com. On Twitter? Follow him @gabrielstovall1.