On a windy and at times rainy evening beside the riverbank of the Chattahoochee River, Lovett scored touchdowns on its first three drives, stymied a high-scoring Trojan offense and endured a 30-minute stoppage of play in the third quarter to advance to next Saturday’s state championship game versus Lamar County.
Lamar County, 14-0, edged Benedictine 10-7 on Friday to set up a rematch of last year’s quarterfinal contest won by the Trojans at Lovett’s Kilpatrick Stadium. Lovett will carry a 13-1 record into the title game that is set for Dec. 14 at 2:30 p.m. at the Georgia Dome.
Senior running back Grant Haley, in his final game on the Buckhead campus, closed it out in style with 20 carries for 123 yards and three scores while also adding an interception on defense.
“It’s really exciting, and it’s a bittersweet moment because it’s my last game at home at Lovett,” said the Vanderbilt commitment, who has run for 1,443 yards and averaged 10.8 yards per carry this season. “Going through Lovett to get to the Dome is a great feeling.”
The Lions, who have scored at least 34 points in each of their four playoff wins, controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the football against Brooks County. Led by a do-everything player in quarterback/defensiveback/return man Malkom Parrish, the Trojans won 12 games this year and had scored 30 points or more in 10 contests.
But the Lions brought the pressure to Parrish and the Brooks County offense that averaged less than three yards per carry and mustered just 10 first downs. A couple of explosions plays, including a 61-yard trick-play scoring pass to Parrish just before halftime, aided the Brooks County offensive totals that still only reached 246 total yards.
Lovett had 10 total tackles for loss, including equaling a season high with four
sacks. One of those came early in the game from senior linebacker Deen Brooks
to help end a Trojan drive that had reached inside the Lovett 25. The Trojans, who
were only 2 of 12 on third and fourth down plays, scored less than 20 points for the first time this season.
Brooks, who had three tackles for loss on the night, said afterward one of the team’s goals entering the game was “to hit the quarterback every play.” They certainly did.
Parrish is committed to the University of Georgia as a defensive player, but Bulldog offensive coordinator Mike Bobo was on he sidelines Friday to see the future Dawg get repeatedly hounded in going 9-for-21 passing for 115 yards and two interceptions. He rushed 15 times for 59 yards, but was punished mightily in the physical football game that saw numerous yellow flags.
Brooks County was flagged 14 times for 123 yards, while Lovett was penalized four times for 30 yards as both the rough play on the field and some second-judging of the officiating drew jeers from both team’s supporters.
On offense, Lovett ran a season-high 68 plays and also piled up a season-best 24 first downs in dominating the time of possession (32:28 – 15:32). Fifty-eight of those plays were rushes as Lovett averaged 4.8 yards per carry in grinding out 276 yards on the ground.
Quarterback Willie Cander, who missed a portion of the first half with a back injury, was effective when asked to throw in going 6-for-7 for 72 yards and a 13-yard score to Jack McGranahan. That marked the first of Lovett’s two opening quarter scores as Haley took it in from 17 yards on the next possession, and then Haley did it again from 7 yards out to make 21-0 with 6:46 left before half.
The Parrish TD reception from Ijohn Parrish with under a minute before the break made it 21-6 at intermission.
Lovett extended it to 28-6 on a 4-yard blast up the middle by Murphy Lee (17 carries, 79 yards) with four minutes left in the third. But then a quick, but heavy storm blew through, and because of the threatening weather conditions in the area, the stadium was emptied for half an hour.
The teams eventually returned, but only slightly more than half the Lovett fans did. Those who remained saw Haley tack on a third scoring run from 20 yards out before the Trojans’ Mitavious Broo closed out the scoring with a 4-yard run with 11 seconds left to go in the third.
Lovett began playing football in 1960 and the 1970 state championship remains its lone title. For the better part of three decades, the program has been consistently good, but never quite good enough to win it all. Coach Mike Muschamp is in his ninth season at the school and has taken six of those teams to the quarterfinals.
He has had the Lions on or near the brink of a championship before. In 2006, Lovett advanced to the semifinals in the Georgia Dome, but was drubbed 65-7 by Dublin. The next year, the Lions won their Dome semifinal game, but were trounced 50-0 at Buford in the state title game. Then came back-to-back semifinal losses in 2009 and 2010.
And of course there was the tough seven-point loss to visiting Lamar County last year in the quarterfinals. And now here are the Trojans standing in the way of the Lions in what would be the first state championship for a Buckhead school in 35 years (Westminster, 1978). It would be the first state championship for Lovett in 43 years.
Asked about Lamar County, state titles, the Georgia Dome and all that goes with it, the Lovett coach refused to remove himself from the present, which was the aftermath of the final home game of the year, which just happened to be a convincing win in the semifinals of the state playoffs.
“What we’re going to do is just enjoy this one for now,” said Muschamp. And with that he did as he jogged through the drizzling night to be with his victorious team and their celebratory fan base.