Jeff Hurndon Photography: Lovejoy running back Travis Custis (22) ran for just 33 yards on 14 carries against Tucker, but the junior will return next season as arguably one of the top running backs in the state.
ATLANTA — Lovejoy' coach Al Hughes and his Tucker counterpart Franklin Stephens both acknowledged that the top-ranked Tigers experience was probably a deciding factor in their 22-7 win Friday at the Georgia Dome.
Until this season, Lovejoy had never made it pass the quarterfinals in the state playoffs.
Last season, the Wildcats lost to Glynn Academy in the first round.
"It was definitely an experience factor," Hughes said. "We made a lot of mistakes. We know it wasn't the Dome, because we scored 71 points the last time we were here."
Hughes was making reference to the team's 71-0 win over a winless Morrow team in a game back in September at the Georgia Dome.
By the numbers
1 — Passes completed by Tucker.
14 — Wins for Lovejoy, a single-season school record.
31 — Total yards of offense for Lovejoy in the first half.
33 — Rushing yards for Lovejoy RB Travis Custis, who came in averaging 128.9 yards per game.
260 — Rushing yards for Tucker.
Tucker was a different story with its talent and speed.
"We had some kids that made some plays," Franklin said. "They have a good defense. Our kids just found a way to win."
Franklin didn't think speed was a major factor.
"They are just as fast as us," he said.
Because Lovejoy was designated the home team in the game, the Wildcats got to wear their home blue uniforms. This was the fifth straight playoff game that Lovejoy has been the home team.
Although the two big screens in the end zones at the Dome showed replays, the Georgia High School Association does not utilize them to review calls.
If replay was used, Lovejoy's Rico McWilliams would have been credited for a 25-yard reception in the second quarter.
McWilliams made a caught near the Lovejoy sideline, but officials ruled he was out-of-bounds,which forced a punt.
The play was replayed several times on the big screen as Lovejoy lined up to punt, and it showed that McWilliams did get one foot inbounds on the play.
Lovejoy had trouble moving the ball all night against Tucker. The Wildcats first first down of the game didn't come until 8:51 in the second quarter when Travis Custis ripped off a 21-yard run.
Smart at the Dome
Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart was on the sidelines at the Georgia Dome. Earlier this week, Lovejoy coach Al Hughes confirmed that Alabama was interested in Wildcats defensive back Rico McWilliams, who has committed to sign with South Carolina in February.
Since verbal commitments are non-binding, schools can still contact players.
McWilliams said he has been so focused on the Wildcats title game appearance that he has not really thought about the recruiting process. He did acknowledge that he was still committed to South Carolina.
"Right now, I'm still a Gamecock," McWilliams said after the game