Class AAAAAA Title Game (8:30 p.m)
Lovejoy (13-1) vs. Norcross (14-0)
Overview: Neither school nor head coach has won a state title. Lovejoy, which opened in 1990, made the state final in AAAA last year and lost to Tucker. Norcross, which started football in 1957, will be playing in its first state championship game. Lovejoy coach Al Hughes (109-80) and Norcross coach Keith Maloof (129-59) are in their 17th seasons as head coaches.
Lovejoy: The Wildcats returned most major figures from its AAAA runner-up team but were ranked only No. 7 in preseason because of the move to a higher classification. They lost their second game at Colquitt County 14-7 before dominating weak 2-AAAAAA, winning their six region games by an average score of 53-2. They’ve beaten Tri-Cities (51-13), Marietta (36-15), No. 4 North Gwinnett (21-6) and North Cobb (63-42) in the playoffs.
Norcross season: The Blue Devils were unranked in preseason largely because of their first-round exit in 2011 but were expected to contend. They beat three-time region champion North Gwinnett 31-21 in the third game and kept rolling. Norcross can become the first team in the highest class since 1986 Valdosta to defeat all 15 opponents by eight points or more. Norcross has beaten Chattahoochee (34-7), South Gwinnett (27-7), No. 5 Camden County (34-20) and No. 10 Colquitt County (41-27) in the playoffs.
Lovejoy strength: Lovejoy has a 2,000-yard rusher in Travis Custis and a 2,000-yard passer in Alejandro Bennifield. The defense thrives on tackles for losses and turnovers.
Norcross strength: Norcoss has a 2,000-yard rusher in Alvin Kamara and a 2,000-yard passer in Joseph Wilbur. Myles Autry is a tremendous weapon as rusher, receiver and returner.
Loveoy top players: Custis and receiver Jumichael Ramos have committed to Georgia Tech. Other top recruits include NT Norwood (Jacksonville State), TE Arshad Jackson (Auburn), DE Veion Robinson (Middle Tennessee), DE Zane Fields (uncommitted) and Bennifield (uncommitted).
Norcross’ top players: Kamara, who is uncommitted, is rated among the top five running backs nationally by three recruiting services. CB Shon Akins has committed to California. DE Lorenzo Carter and DB/WR Autry have several SEC and ACC offers as juniors.
On Lovejoy: ‘’Their defense is what’s unique. Their ability to play tight man-to-man coverage with no high safeties and put seven in the box, you don’t see a lot of that in high school. It’s difficult to pick up the tough yards in the run game. Most teams would be really rolling the dice to give up a big play, but they don’t because they put tremendous pressure on the quarterback.’’
– North Gwinnett coach Bob Sphire, whose team lost to Lovejoy 21-6 on Nov. 30.
On Norcross: ‘’They may be the one team in Georgia to actually break down Lovejoy’s defense because they are extremely explosive on offense with Kamara and Autry. Kamara’s ability to stretch the field horizontally before he cuts vertically makes it tough to load the box. But if Autry isn’t healthy [he tweaked a knee in semifinals], that plays into Lovejoy’s hands.’’
– North Gwinnett coach Bob Sphire, whose team lost to Norcross 31-21 on Sept. 14.
AJC pick: Norcross 27, Lovejoy 20