Photo by Derrick Mahone
Lovejoy defensive back/wide receiver Jermaine Hough takes a break in the action Friday at Twelve Oaks Stadium. The senior had two interceptions that led to scores in the sixth-ranked Wildcats’ 21-6 win over Warner Robins.
In the waning moments of the 4-AAAA semifinal, the Lovejoy Wildcats’ fans summarized the story for the night.
“We’re going to the dome! We’re going to the dome,” they chanted as Wildcat quarterback Alejandro Bennifield took the final kneel down out of the victory formation.
Coach Al Hughes was given the traditional Gatorade shower, and Wildcat teammates leaped and chest-bumped each other, all in celebration of their 21-6 victory over the Warner Robins Demons, which punched Lovejoy’s ticket to its first-ever state championship game next Friday at the Georgia Dome.
“We feel like the Georgia Dome might be our home,” said Hughes. “Our kids worked hard and deserved this opportunity. I can’t say enough about our coaching staff. They do it all for us, and I just sit back and watch with the best seat in the house.”
What Hughes saw was his suffocating Wildcat defense hold a Warner Robins team that came in averaging 31 points per game to just two field goals. He saw a group of kids shake off some first-half jitters and adjust to the Demons attempting to match Lovejoy’s intensity, bone-jarring hit for bone-jarring hit.
He saw his quarterback put the game on his shoulders when the Lovejoy bread-and-butter running attack struggled to get untracked. Bennefield at times carried the offensive load for the Wildcats. His 9-of-16 passing with 87 yards won’t light up a stat sheet, but his two touchdown tosses against a Warner Robins defense stacking the box with eight and nine men proved priceless.
“We saw them really stopping the run, so coach told us to go to the air,” said Bennefield. “It worked early on and we just stuck with it until the end.”
Warner Robins may look back on this game and chalk the loss up to missed opportunities in the Lovejoy redzone. The Demons invaded the Wildcats’ side of the field on four possessions with three of those drives penetrating Lovejoy’s 20-yard line. The results: one 26-yard field goal, a 33-yard attempt that sailed wide right and an errant pass by quarterback Ty Odom that was intercepted by Lovejoy cornerback Jermaine Hough.
Hough’s pick and 68-yard return set up the Wildcats for their first score — a seven yard touchdown pass from Bennifield on a perfectly thrown fade route to Arshad Jackson that put Lovejoy up 7-3 with 1:01 left in the first half.
Lovejoy opened the second half trying to establish the running game as Travis Custis — held to just 29 yards on 10 attempts, gashed the Demon defense on consecutive runs of 10 and 14 yards. But a chop block penalty stalled the drive and Warner Robins cut the lead to 7-6 by nailing a 36-yard field goal.
In the second half, the cornerback tandem of Hough and South Carolina recruit Rico McWilliams regularly shut down Demon receivers who made a couple of big plays early in the first quarter. And after a second Hough interception, Bennifield went back to work, throwing a 36-yard dart on a crossing route to JuMichael Ramos and hitting Hough on a 9-yard screen pass. The six-play, 45-yard scoring drive was punctuated on a four-yard touchdown pass to Jackson that looked like an instant replay of their first hook-up in the first half, and put the Wildcats up 14-6 with 6:39 left in the game.
Custis, who gained 89 of his 113 rushing yards in the second half, sealed the deal with a 21-yard touchdown run where he ran over one defender and literally pushed another to the turf to provide the final margin.
Lovejoy’s victory upped its record to 14-0 on the season and will face Tucker in the Class AAAA championship game. Hughes says his team can now turn its full attention to achieving their ultimate goal.
“Tucker has a great, great program out there,” Hughes said. “We’re going to show up, though and do what we do. We have some unfinished business.”