The Alcovy Tigers fell in a 27-8 heartbreaker Friday night to Lovejoy, coming up just short of the program’s first region championship at Sharp Stadium.
The Tigers (7-3, 4-2) looked unfazed by the No. 2 ranked team in the state and gave the Wildcats all they could handle, but, in the end, Lovejoy walked away with its fourth consecutive region championship.
“I don’t know if we could have played any harder,” Alcovy coach Kirk Hoffman said. “Two or three plays were the difference in that ball game.”
The game started off as a defensive struggle, as both teams went scoreless on their first two drives.
Lovejoy cracked the scoring open with a long, fast-pace drive on its second possession. Quarterback Quintarius Neely connected with receivers Preston Williams and Brandon Williams for 55 total yards on the drive, while running back Jeremiah Kirkland played a huge part in the drive with 24 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown to cap off the drive.
Despite the Wildcats’ quick blitz, Alcovy withstood their touchdown drive and was able to keep Lovejoy out of rhythm.
The Tigers struggled to find their offensive rhythm, but put their first points on the board thanks to special teams play. Alcovy blocked a Lovejoy punt early in the second quarter, that rolled into the end zone for a safety, cutting Lovejoy’s lead to 7-2.
Alcovy was finally able to move the ball offensively entering the second half.
The Tigers moved the ball methodically down the field, led by quarterback Tristen Payne. Payne connected with Jaylin Penny and D’Anthony Bell for 51 yards, while carrying the ball three times for 13 yards on the drive.
Penny capped off the drive with a highlight-reel catch in the corner of the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown pass from Penny, giving the Tigers an 8-7 lead.
Alcovy continued to control the game throughout the third quarter, but the period didn’t end the way the Tigers wanted.
The Tigers’ punting unit dropped a snap on a punt had to fall on it, giving Lovejoy a short field. Lovejoy capitalized with a 37-yard field goal to regain the lead 10-8.
On the ensuing kickoff, Alcovy fumbled the ball on the return and Lovejoy recovered. Alcovy’s defense made another huge stop, as Lovejoy was forced to kick 27-yard field goal to start the fourth quarter, pushing the Wildcats ahead 13-7.
Lovejoy controlled the game from that point on.
Neely connected with Williams for a 24-yard touchdown pass for his second score of the game, putting the contest out of the Tigers’ grasp.
Lovejoy went on to score late in the fourth quarter on a 10-yard touchdown run by Kirkland for the 27-8 final.
“Now, we have to regroup and get ready for the playoffs.” Hoffman said.
With the loss, the Tigers will travel in the first round of the state playoffs to take on Hillgrove.
The Hawks finished the season with a 9-1 overall record and a 7-1 mark in region action.