By Josh Kraeger
Special to the Daily
Lovejoy seemed to have met its match Friday night at Twelve Oaks stadium against the Jonesboro Cardinals, but thanks to late-game heroics, the Wildcats walked off with a 21-14 victory over the Cardinals.
The Cardinals, coming off a tough loss against Mundy's Mill started the game off with a three-and-out, but their punt hit a Wildcat player and Jonesboro recovered. However, their luck was short-lived, as the Lovejoy defense forced another three-and-out.
On their first drive, the Wildcats faced some troubles of their own. After a 49-yard pass from senior quarterback Vic Hardison was caught by junior wide receiver Rumeal Barbary, the Wildcats committed a holding penalty. This brought them back to the Jonesboro 31-yard line, but Hardison fumbled the ball on the subsequent play, and the Cardinals recovered.
Possessions were traded by each team, and the game seemed at a standstill until Lovejoy was punting the ball from its own end zone. Jonesboro junior strong safety Rodney Singleton recovered a fumble in the end zone for the first score of the night. The touchdown gave the Cardinals a 7-0 lead with 50 seconds left in the opening quarter.
On the ensuing Cardinal kickoff, Lovejoy committed another careless mistake, as Jonesboro recovered the kickoff before the Wildcats could touch the ball. The Cardinals meticulously drove the ball down the field, reaching the Lovejoy 14-yard line as the first quarter expired.
The opening play of the second quarter was a halfback pass by sophomore running back Patrick Petty to sophomore wide receiver Dereon London that resulted in a 14-yard touchdown reception. The touchdown gave the Cardinals a 14-0 lead with 11:51 left in the second quarter.
Lovejoy's luck was yet to turn, as their following drive showed. Three plays in, Jonesboro strong safety Cedric Nettles intercepted Hardison's pass and took the ball to the 23-yard line. A touchdown pass by Nettles was called back on a holding call, and the Cardinals' drive yielded nothing, as a field goal attempt by senior kicker Everett Sanchez was no good.
With 7:10 left in the half, and the Wildcats facing a 14-0 deficit and the prospect of losing their first game of the season, Hardison led Lovejoy down the field in typical Wildcat style. Hardison led a drive spanning eight plays and 80 yards, culminating in a 10-yard touchdown run by junior running back Christian Hill. The touchdown run cut the Jonesboro lead from 14 to seven, and the Wildcats were back in the ball game with 3:34 to go in the second quarter.
The game remained stagnant throughout the final minutes of the quarter, and for the duration of the third quarter as well. The Jonesboro faithful experienced a scare when the Cardinals' punt was blocked near the end zone, but Nettles was able to recover and run the ball to the five-yard line before turning the ball over to the Wildcats. The Cardinals' fans joy was short-lived, as Lovejoy sophomore running back Travis Custis ran the ball in for a five-yard touchdown on the next play.
"All I could think about was how coach always says, bend never break, and put your best foot forward," Hardison said. "We put our best foot forward and we took over from there."
The Wildcats' celebrations were cut short when Jonesboro blocked the point-after-attempt. The blocked attempt kept the Cardinals ahead by one, with 11:43 left to play in the final quarter. The remainder of the quarter was a story of ball control. Each team traded possessions, with neither gaining ground. The Cardinals clung to a one-point lead with time running down, but Lovejoy showed why it had an undefeated record coming into the game.
There was only three and a half minutes on the clock, but it was enough for a last-ditch effort by Hardison and the Wildcats. Hardison led Lovejoy down the field, and Custis burst through the Cardinal defense to bring the ball to the one-yard line with 14 seconds remaining in the game. Hardison pushed through the defense on the next play to score the touchdown for Lovejoy. Custis scored a two-point conversion, and junior defensive back Jermaine Hough secured the victory with his last second interception of Nettles' pass.
"These are the ones you live for," Hardison said. "In the last few seconds you have big time plays, and big time players stepping it up." The Wildcats managed to step it up, as they have all season, and moved to an impressive 7-0 record.
"I was surprised in the first half that we had to go through all of that," Custis said. "In the second half though, we stepped it up, and we're still undefeated."
The Wildcats (7-0) will look to maintain their undefeated record at home in Twelve Oaks Stadium next Friday night against Forest Park (1-6). The Cardinals (2-5) will search for answers next Friday night against the surging North Clayton Eagles (6-1) at Southern Crescent Stadium. When asked about the possibility of perfection, Hardison smiled and stopped to think before commenting.
"We just have to take it one game at a time, and the next game will tell you," Hardison said.