Photo by Derrick Mahone
Lovejoy linebacker/tight end Zane Field helped lead the Wildcats to a passing league title at the University of Virginia last weekend. It was the second passing league title for the Lovejoy this summer.
For Lovejoy, it was “mission accomplished,” part one.
The Wildcats went to the University of Virginia’s seven-on-seven tournament with a narrow mind.
“We had no choice but to go up there and win it,” tight end A.J. Jackson said. “We told coach (Kevin) Jones we weren’t going to leave Virginia this year without that trophy.”
Lovejoy one-upped its runner-up finish in last year’s tournament by beating some of the best football teams in Virginia, sweetening the feat by exacting a little revenge.
Lovejoy played 13 games within a 24-hour period, each with a 25-minute running clock. The Wildcats didn’t stumble much in their first five contests, winning easily and then taking a one-hour rest before meeting four-time defending state champion Hermitage of Richmond.
Lovejoy coach Al Hughes said that was one break that he wished had not been afforded to his team.
“Everything was so easy up to that point,” Hughes said. “We just kind of laid around during the rest period, trying to stay in the shade. Then we came back against Hermitage and dropped three touchdown passes. We probably would have been better off if we just kept playing.”
Lovejoy lost that contest by a point. But the Wildcats rolled through their next five opponents, only to come full circle and meet up with Hermitage in the tournament’s title game. This time, the result was different — a 35-0 Lovejoy victory.
Same two teams. Same tournament. What was the change?
“It was the wow factor,” Hughes said. “We got beat and our kids felt that wasn’t supposed to happen.”
That loss was the first time Lovejoy ever crossed paths with Hermitage. But Wildcat tight end/defensive end Zane Fields said the team that really beat Lovejoy was a rather familiar one.
“Hermitage came out real cocky,” Fields said. “They beat us that first game, but we really beat ourselves.”
That’s why Jackson said that dropping a second game to the same opponent was not an option.
“The first game, we came out sluggish, we still almost came back,” said Jackson, who committed to Auburn earlier this spring. “That was our big motivator. Lose to those guys twice and that would make us look real bad.”
Not that Hermitage isn’t capable of making even the best teams seem inferior. Not only is Hermitage in the midst of a four-year championship run, it boasts one of the nation’s most prized recruits in running back Derrick Green.
The 6-foot, 215-pound tailback has been offered by virtually every BCS-level school in the nation, and while Hughes couldn’t immediately remember his name, watching the way he ran conjured up images of one more familiar to football fans in Georgia.
“That kid looked just like Herschel Walker out there,” Hughes said of Green. “I mean it’s not like Georgia has all the great athletes and no one else has any. We played against the highest-recruited kid in Virginia.”
And for Fields, that’s what made the victory all the more rewarding.
“Playing that kind of competition up there and winning just makes us want to keep working,” Fields said. “We learned that we can face adversity. When stuff goes wrong, we can keep a level head and keep playing against anybody.” We always hear all of the hype, and then we hear how we’re really not that good because we haven’t played in a larger region.”
That will change in the upcoming season, as Lovejoy will compete in Class AAAAAA — Georgia’s highest classification.
The preparation for another state championship run continues as Lovejoy sets its sights on competing in the Georgia Invitational 7-on-7 Tournament at Lassiter High School in Marietta on July 15-16. The tournament is a qualifier for the Under Armour-sponsored National Select 7-on-7 Championships, which will be held in Hoover, Ala., on July 21-23.
Last year, Hughes said Lovejoy finished fifth in the Georgia Invitational but the lessons his team learned from overcoming obstacles in Virginia should bode well as they continue preparing for part two of the ‘Unfinished Business’ tour.
“We’ve got some great leaders and we found out who those people are in Virginia,” Hughes said. “We heard guys like Zane say, ‘This isn’t the Lovejoy way, fellas.’ These seniors are saying, ‘Step up and follow us or get out of the way.’ We plan to take that same mindset into the regular season.”
Such a mentality, Jackson said, was key to Lovejoy finishing one game better than last year in the UVA tournament and it will be vital in the Wildcats’ quest to do the same in the state.
“We realize nobody’s going to give us anything,” he said. “We’re going to have to earn our own.”