The Lovejoy defense makes a tackle on a Lowndes running back in the first half of the Class AAAAAA playoff game at Twelve Oaks Stadium on Friday. (Special Photo: Jason Mussell)
HAMPTON — This time there was no miracle come-from-behind win for second-ranked Lovejoy in its second round Class AAAAAA playoff game.
As Wildcats quarterback Quintarius Neely’s pass sailed into the hands of Lowndes defensive back Eric Hart with 1:27 remaining, Lovejoy’s season ended.
After two straight trips to its classification’s title game, Lowndes ended the Wildcats season with a 23-18 loss on Friday at Twelve Oaks Stadium.
The Wildcats offense struggled all night to move the ball while the defense had trouble slowing down Lowndes’ Wing-T offense.
“Our defense played great all night,” Lowndes coach Randy McPherson said. “Our guys kept playing hard the entire night.”
One of the big keys for Lowndes was slowing down Lovejoy wide receiver Preston Williams, who is considered by most recruiting analysts as the top wide receiver in the country. Williams, a 6-foot-5 junior who has committed to Tennessee, had five receptions for 155 yards and a touchdown.
“You can’t really stop him, but we were able to slow him down,” McPherson said. “We put our best cornerback Brandon Roberts on him most of the night. Brandon did a great job.”
With Lowndes leading 14-0 early in the second quarter, Williams made one of his biggest plays of the game. He caught an 80-yard reception from Neely for a touchdown. In the past two games, five of Williams’ six receptions have gone for scores.
From there, Williams didn’t catch another pass until the second half as the Wildcats tried to mount a comeback.
“We just couldn’t get our offense going,” Williams said. “We wasted a lot of opportunities in the game. It is a very disappointing loss. We have to put it behind us and get ready for the offseason and work hard towards next season.”
Lovejoy trailed 17-12 at the intermission as it missed both extra-point attempts on touchdowns. The Wildcats’ other first-half touchdown came on a 27-yard fumble recovery by Brandon Williams with 7:36 remaining in the first half as they trailed 14-12.
The loss ended the Wildcats’ season at 10-2 while Lowndes advances to the quarterfinals next week with a 9-3 record. It is the fourth straight season that the Wildcats have had double-digit wins.
“This one really hurts,” Neely said. “We just didn’t move the ball good enough to win. Lowndes has a good defense.”
The Wildcats only had one first down in the first half, and did not snap the ball in Lowndes territory the entire opening half.
A six-yard run by running back Jeremiah Kirkland on the second drive of the third quarter placed the ball in Lowndes territory for the first time in the game for Lovejoy. However, the drive stalled on fourth down at the Vikings’ 5-yard line.
“I thought our defensive coaches had a good game plan,” McPherson said.
“Their defense was penetrating on us all night,” Neely said. “We couldn’t really move the ball.”