So the Warriors looked to a familiar foe to help get answers.
North Cobb coach Shane Queen touched base with Marietta’s Scott Burton to get film on Lovejoy (12-1) and discuss how the Warriors (11-2) could get a victory against the Region 2AAAAAA champion.
Marietta lost to Lovejoy 36-15 in the second round two weeks ago, and Burton was willing to help Queen get a leg up on the competition.
“I had some friendly suggestions and told him some things that I might change if I had to go against them again,” Burton said. “In speaking with him, I could tell his staff had already done a good job with their preparation, but our talk helped solidify what they were already thinking.”
What North Cobb is thinking about is trying to find ways to beat Lovejoy and advance to the program’s first state championship game since 1959. The Warriors have gotten this far by taking advantage of their opportunities in every phase of the game, and the ride has been exciting for North Cobb football fans.
“It’s obviously exciting for the whole community, and the school and the administration and the kids,” Queen said. “The atmosphere at the school is buzzing. These kids deserve the benefits from their hard work. They’ve bought into what the coaching staff is preaching as far as everything to playing hard on the field to being leaders off the field.
“All of the little things and the intangibles carry over to the field. I think that’s one of the reasons why we’ve been successful.”
In order for that success to continue, North Cobb will have to slow down a Lovejoy team that’s scoring an average of 42.2 points per game and holding opponents to 7.2.
Against Marietta, the Wildcats’ Travis Curtis carried the ball 24 times for 99 yards, while Alejandro Bennefield completed 12 of 18 passes for 152 yards and three touchdowns. Defensively, the Wildcats held the Blue Devils’ Anthony Jennings to 18 rushing yards and picked him off twice — returning one of the interceptions 105 yards for the team’s final touchdown.
Jennings was sacked nine times, and Marietta’s run game was limited to minus-25 yards.
“(Lovejoy is) so aggressive and athletic, we just have to sustain blocks,” Queen said. “We have to realize that we’re probably not going to get a ton of big plays. We have to be patient and move the chains and keep their offense off the field.
“We have to play ahead of the sticks, so to speak, where we have to win on first down and be in a position on second down to get a first down. What they thrive on is getting the big stop on first down, putting you in second-and-long and then pinning their ears back to come get you.”
Burton’s saw how Lovejoy approached things defensively, and he noted how the Wildcats’ players operated almost as single entities.
“Lovejoy boils down to a series of 1-on-1 matchups,” he said. “That’s their scheme defensively, and it’s unconventional. They have great personnel on that side of the ball.
“Especially on the offensive line, you have to win all of your 1-on-1 matches against them. (Lovejoy) just (needs) to win one to get a guy in the backfield to disrupt your run game. They have the athletes that can do that.”
One thing North Cobb learned in its 42-35 quarterfinal-round win against Mill Creek last week is that it can score in bunches and make plays. That attitude could help the Warriors tremendously against Lovejoy.
“We’ve talked about it all year long,” Queen said. “If you can just ride the wave and not panic, and when you do get an opportunity to score, do it and get back in the ballgame. These kids do believe that they can win football games, and no matter if we’re up by seven or down by seven, they feel like they have a chance to win.”
Burton will certainly be rooting for North Cobb to win.
“North Cobb kind of represents our second chance against Lovejoy,” he said. “Hopefully, they can take advantage of what they’ve learned.”