Photo by Jerry Jackson
Lovejoy running back Christian Hill (24) tries to run between two Upson-Lee defenders on Friday in the sixth-ranked Wildcats 42-3 win in the first round of the Class AAAA playoffs at Twelve Oaks Stadium.
It’s not often that you hear of an undefeated football team playing with a chip on its shoulder and hoping to earn some respect. But Lovejoy High School head coach Al Hughes said that was exactly what his team did, routing the Upson-Lee High Knights 42-3 Friday in the first round of the Class AAAA playoffs.
“We felt like we had something to prove tonight, and I believe that’s why we played the way we did,” Hughes said. “We’ve heard people say that we play in a soft region, and we wanted to come out and make a statement tonight.”
The Knights heard Lovejoy’s statement loud and clear.
The sixth-ranked Wildcats thoroughly dominated both sides of the ball from the game’s first whistle to the last, in an effort that perhaps tempted Hughes to overlook a few of his team’s pesky mistakes.
“We had a good night,” said Hughes who’s Lovejoy squad is making its first appearance into the playoff’s second round since 2004. “We still had some mistakes that we can correct. Some penalties. But our kids play aggressive, especially on defense. It’s kind of hard to tell them to scale that back.”
Indeed, Lovejoy’s defense — a unit giving up just 3.2 points a game this season — played like heat-seeking missiles all night, halting Upson Lee’s four-game winning streak by holding the Knights to a paltry 101 yards of total offense, blocking a punt and a field goal and forcing three turnovers.
Hughes said his team’s ball-hawking mentality is a team effort comprised of those on the field as well as on the sidelines.
“Kevin Jones, Jimmy Lindsay, Anthony McIntyre, Edgar Carson. Those guys — our defensive coaches — are responsible for how we play ball on that side of the field,” Hughes said.
Offensively, the Wildcats struck early and often.
After each team traded fumbles on their opening drives, Lovejoy settled in and produced a 12-play, 67 yard scoring drive that was punctuated by tailback Travis Custis’ 4-yard touchdown plunge to put Lovejoy up 7-0 just a little more than four minutes into the game.
After having its next drive stalled by a holding penalty, Lovejoy held Upson-Lee to two consecutive three-and-outs, and then gashed the Knights’ interior defense with a 78-yard drive where Custis ripped off consecutive runs of 22, 26 and 13-yard before scoring from five yards out to extend the Wildcat lead to 14-0.
Custis, who finished with 162 yards rushing on 15 carries, also showed off his receiving skills when Wildcat quarterback Alejandro Bennifield scrambled around, eluding two tackles and finding Custis in the back of the endzone for a 6-yard scoring strike that gave Lovejoy a commanding 21-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
The defense then seized the opportunity to get in on the scoring action, when linebackers Demarquis Gates and Terry Harper scooped up a blocked punt and recovered a fumble respectively for touchdowns. Upson Lee tacked on a field goal just before the half to make it a 35-3 game at halftime.
Coach Hughes called off the dogs in the second half after Bennifield connected with Christian Hill on an 8-yard scoring toss to produce the game’s final score. The loss ended the Knights’ season with a 6-5 mark, while Hughes’ Wildcats improved to 11-0 as they host Kell next week in the second round.