Battle between Buckhead rivals resumes after year off

Westminster dominated defensively and did enough on offense for the Wildcats to escape with a 17-7 home win Friday over the Lovett Lions, with the two Buckhead private schools resuming a longstanding rivalry that was interrupted last year by the pandemic.

The Wildcats (1-0), who are ranked No. 8 in Class 3A, recorded an interception, recovered a fumble, and forced four punts and two turnovers on downs.

On back-to-back Lovett possessions to open the second half, sophomore lineman Phillips Moore had a strip-fumble recovery and batted a pass intercepted by Hunter Wanamaker, which helped to preserve the 14-7 lead Westminster took into halftime.

“The plan going in was to just work hard and make sure they couldn’t any passes off, or any screen passes off,” Moore said. “We wanted to keep them down, and I thought we played great.”

The Lions (0-1), ranked No. 5 in 2A, also played strong defense and created two turnovers in the kicking game — one of which led to their only score.

Westminster scored on its second possession of the game when John Collier delivered a strike to Jacob Fleming on a crossing route from 4 yards out with 1:07 left. That play capped an 11-play drive that took just over four minutes.

With 8:50 in the second and the Wildcats punting, a high snap went over the punter’s head and deep into the backfield, with Westminster recovering on its own 4 for the turnover on downs. On the next play, Lovett’s Henry Stimmel ran in from 4 yards to tie the game.

The Wildcats would regain the lead for good with their final drive of the first half, taking over on their own 40 with 3:45 left, then scoring eight plays later on a 5-yard Henry Chartrand reception with 27 seconds left.

Westminster would ice the game with 4:29 remaining on Josh Brockman’s 35-yard field goal, which brought the score to its final margin. His 48-yard attempt earlier in the second half was blocked by the Lions, who took over on the Wildcats 39 but would turn the ball over on downs on fourth-and-3 from the 33.

Westminster and Lovett, located just three miles apart, played ever year from 1994-2019 before their opener last year was nixed over COVID-19 issues. Wildcats coach Gerry Romberg, in his 17th season at Westminster, has been there for most of those games and, for him, renewing the rivalry with Lovett was just as important as the win.

“This was such a great game for both communities because everyone just needed some normalcy,” Romberg said. “To come out and have a football game, and a huge crowd, and to be here for three hours, just living it up. These kids have been playing against each other all their lives — all you’ve got to do is change the uniforms and they’re the same kids.

“It was a hard-fought game and these always are — we knew that’s how it was going to happen.”

Lions coach Mike Muschamp had a simple explanation for his team’s offensive woes, which came on a night that it rained before kickoff.

“Lack of communication, wet ball and just inexperience right now,” he said. “I thought our defense played outstanding. They did play their but off all night long and we didn’t give them much of a break on offense, so they were out there the whole game.

Collier was 15 of 24 for 112 yards and two touchdowns, and Quinton Ezzard led the ground game with 49 yards on 16 carries. Both are juniors.

The Lions rotated sophomores Preston Lusnik and Dylan Mayers at quarterback, with Lusnik completing 7 of his 10 passes for 115 yards and an interception. Mayers was 1-for-3 for 2 yards. Stimmel rushed 10 times for 58 yards.

Next week, Lovett will again play a ranked team from 5-3A, this time hosting GAC in a battle of No. 5s. It will be their final non-region game of the regular season. Westminster hosts 5A’s St. Pius in a battle of No. 8s.

Lovett 0 7 0 0 — 7

Westminster 0 14 0 3 — 17

W — Jacob Fleming 4 pass from John Collier (Josh Brockman kick)

L — Henry Stimmel 4 run (Conner Deviney kick)

W — Henry Chartrand 5 pass from Collier (Brockman kick)

W — Brockman 35 FG