This season has been an emotional rollercoaster for the Lovett Lions' football team. After finishing the regular season with a (8-2, 6-2) record in tough Region 6-AA, the Lions had to play No. 9 Pepperell (9-2) in the first round of the Class AA state playoffs.
Just before the game, the Lions learned that Tyler Cross, a 2005 player and captain on the team who was attending the University of Texas, had died after falling from his fifth story balcony early that morning.
Lovett, led by junior tailback Andre Hicks and his 138 yards rushing, came away with a thrilling 38-14 win over Pepperell. However, it was a very somber win for the coaching staff, fans, and players who had to cope with the loss of a former teammate.
"The team wanted to come out and raise up and glorify a guy that exhibited what it was to be a great athlete," said Lovett Head Coach Mike Muschamp. "They wanted to remember him the right way and I think they did."
In their next game, Lovett had to somehow contain undefeated Heard County's Dontavius Jackson if they expected to advance to the next round. The Lion defense came through and held Jackson to just 91 yards rushing for a 38-8 upset of the Mighty Braves.
Lovett (10-2) has relied heavily on their defensive unit led by the trio of Andy Head (Linebacker), Win Rollins (Free Safety), Andre Hicks (cornerback). A big part of the defense's success has been the play of the defensive line led by senior Brian Stockton.
"They've had a real good year and it started in camp when this group really started to come together," said Muschamp. "They sort of evolved into what we are right now which is a pretty good defensive team that plays hard ever snap."
Senior quarterback Chris Meyer runs the Lovett offense after a stellar season with 12 touchdowns, 5 ints and over 1,200 yards passing. He is surrounded by a good cast of wide receivers that catch the ball well and do a good job of blocking downfield. A strong running game has often been a part of the Lions' equation — the success of junior Andre Hicks and backup West Barnwell attest to that.
"We graduated a whole bunch of kids last year, so we never really knew what was going to happen," said Muschamp. "Our expectations were to try and get better every week. I really think that's something that these kids have done."
"They started out the year at a certain level and each week we've sort of progressed and gotten better. That was the goal that we had, and how ever far we went, that's was just going to be icing on the cake. Obviously, to get to the elite eight is a great compliment to our kids and our coaching staff."
Lovett became the third Region 6-AA team to reach the quarterfinals, joining Buford (12-0) and GAC (11-1), the only teams to have beaten Lovett this year.
"It hadn't been the easiest road in the world," Muschamp said. "Your talking about playing the GAC's, Buford's and Wesleyan's of the world. Then in the playoffs, we face Pepperell at (9-1) and Heard County at (11-0). That's a (20-1) record as far as those two playoff games are concerned. We're not talking about cupcake city."
Lovett gets no sympathy from Bleckley County when it comes to playing in a tough region.
"They are one of the best teams we will have played this year," said coach Muschamp. "Their situation is similar to our situation in that they play in a very tough region. When you play in a region like that, it's hard to get in front of the region, but once you get in front of that region, you are well prepared for the playoffs. Bleckley is a perfect example of that in beating Fitzgerald and Savannah Christian. That's two pretty good football teams. They're not your typical No. 4 seed in the playoffs."
My prediction: Lovett 27, Bleckley County 13
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Lakewood Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia
Records: Lovett is 10-2 overall, 6-2 in Region 6-AA; Bleckley County is 8-4, 3-3 in Region 4-AA.
Lovett prepares for Bleckley County
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