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End of the road for Lovejoy

Wildcats unable to finish perfect season, stop top-ranked Tucker’s diverse rush attack

Jeff Hurndon Photography: Lovejoy’s Jermaine Hough (2) is brought down by two Tucker defenders during the Wildcats’ 22-7 loss in the Class AAAA championship Friday at the Georgia Dome.

Jeff Hurndon Photography: Lovejoy’s Jermaine Hough (2) is brought down by two Tucker defenders during the Wildcats’ 22-7 loss in the Class AAAA championship Friday at the Georgia Dome.

ATLANTA — The championship drought continues in Clayton County as Lovejoy's dream season ended in a nightmare on Friday in the Georgia Dome.

Tucker's speed, on both sides of the ball, was a little too much for sixth-ranked Lovejoy to handle Friday in the Class AAAA title.

The top-ranked Tigers scored three touchdowns on runs of at least 10 yards to capture its second title in four seasons with a 22-7 win in a game that featured several future college players.

Tucker stuck for two early first-half touchdowns, and got a big safety from its defense to put the Wildcats in a big deficit.

Lovejoy was never able to recover.

"We didn't execute," Lovejoy senior Rico McWilliams said. "We had too many missed assignments. We just didn't come out with that high intensity."

Clayton County has not had a state championship in football since Morrow defeated Effingham County in 1987. Lovejoy was the first team in the county to play for a title since Mount Zion lost to Oconee County in 1999.

It was the second state title in the last four years for the Tigers under coach Franklin Stephens.

"I knew it would come down to the team that made the least mistakes," Franklin said. "We had to overcome some situations, and we made some big plays."

Box score

Class AAAA final

No. 1 Tucker 22, No. 6 Lovejoy 7

Lovejoy (14-1) 0 0 0 7 — 7

Tucker (15-0) 6 9 7 0 — 22

T: Landry 35 run (run failed)

T: Safety

T: Minor 37 run (Duffy kick)

T: Rivers 10 run (Duffy kick)

L: Jackson 6 pass from Bennifield (Nunez kick)

RUSHING LEADERS: L: Bennifield 10-46, Custis 14-33, Hill 1-(-4). T: Landry 11-90, Minor 12-68, Williams 7-54, Rivers 5-24, Hooker 8-20, Simons 2-4.

PASSING LEADERS: L: Bennifield 17-32-2 153. T: Williams 1-4-0 11.

RECEIVING LEADERS: L: Hough 3-36, Hill 3-33, Ramos 3-31, McWilliams 1-17, Hamilton 2-14, Jackson 2-13, Custis 3-9. T: Sanders 1-11.

On its second possession, Jordan Landry capped an 83-yard drive with a 35-yard touchdown run with 3:24 in the first quarter for a 6-0 lead after a two-point conversion run failed.

After exchanging punts, Lovejoy made the first major mistake of the game.

Its punt returner fielded the ball at the 2. On the second play of the drive, Wildcats running back Travis Custis was tackled in the end zone for a safety, and Tucker was up 8-0 with 10:21 remaining in the first half.

Tucker running back Yusuf Minor scored on a 37-yard run with 9:19 remaining in the opening half as the Tigers, who started the season ranked No. 1, took an 8-0 lead.

Lovejoy was never able to recover.

"We knew they would be fast, and they made some plays," Lovejoy defensive coordinator Kevin Jones said. "We ran into a buzz saw. They were like a machine. They just kept coming. This is a valuable lesson, and we will use it to grow."

A nightmarish first half spilled over into the final two quarters, as the Wildcats suffered their only loss of the season.

Tucker amassed 270 yards of offense, while Lovejoy was limited to 197 yards.

The Wildcats (14-1) avoided the shutout when A.J. Jackson caught a 6-yard touchdown pass from Alejandro Bennifield with 7:44 remaining in the game.

Although this was Lovejoy's first state title game, Wildcats coach Al Hughes said the disappointment in coming up empty is still there.

"I'm hurt, and the players are hurting," Hughes said. "We came here to win a championship. Our business is still not finished. I'm proud of all the kids and coaches, because we did a good job in representing the county